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Real estate tax hike in store for Franklin County

December 31, 2004|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, PA. - Property owners in Franklin County will see real estate taxes increase 24 percent as a result of the $92.6 million 2005 budget approved Thursday by the Board of County Commissioners.

The budget raises the general fund real estate tax from 15.3 mills to 17.05 mills. The mill rate for debt service, due to a $39 million bond issue for a $30 million prison, $5 million for farmland preservation and $4 million for a new public safety communications system, will increase from .85 to 3.1 mills.

Construction of the new prison is to begin next spring, with completion set for late 2006, according to Warden John Wetzel.

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The tax for the county library system, charged to 18 of the county's 22 municipalities, will remain at .6 mills.

The total county tax will be 20.75 mills, or $20.75 for every $1,000 of assessed value on a property. Commission Chairman G. Warren Elliott said the increase will cost the average property owner an additional $58 a year.

This is the third tax increase since 2001, when property taxes were 10.9 mills, according to county records.

The county's real estate tax is still among the lowest, if not the lowest, among the 67 counties in Pennsylvania, Elliott said. Even though the percentage increase is high, he said taxpayers in other counties are going to be paying out more.

Because of the relatively low county tax, "it takes us a higher percentage to generate the same amount of dollars," he said. In Dauphin County, for example, he said a 19 percent increase in property taxes will cost the average homeowner another $110.

"I'm on a fixed income. I'm retired," said Bud Bennett, one of about half a dozen members of the public at the budget meeting. "When my taxes go up, it hurts me a lot more than someone who gets 2, 3 or 4 percent a year" in pay increases, he said.

Bennett said Social Security for him and his wife will go up a total of $16 next year because of an increase in Medicare.

"I don't agree with everything they do, but financially, I agree with about 99.9 percent," said Eugene Klee. He said he still does not agree with the tax hike, "but you see what's going on in other counties."

Elliott listed off several counties in which the property tax increases will cost landowners more than in Franklin County. "Most of those counties aren't running a nursing home. Most of those counties aren't doing farmland preservation," he said.

The budget is more than a 9 percent increase over the 2004 budget of $82.4 million. Local tax revenues are projected to increase from $18.4 to $23.5 million, according to budget figures.

The county will receive a projected $13.9 million in federal subsidies, $20.1 million in state subsidies and $27.9 million in charges for services, the budget document stated.

In the $26.9 million general fund, paid for mostly through local taxes, the budget calls for general government services to remain about the same at $5.9 million, but public safety will increase by more than $1 million to $10.3 million and judicial services will go up by nearly $500,000 to $5.5 million.

Crime, courts and corrections account for 73 cents of every $1 in local taxes, according to the budget summary. The budget for Franklin County Prison will increase by more than $1 million to $6.3 million, according to county figures.

Elliott said 32 new positions were requested by various departments, a figure that was cut to seven in the final budget. That includes five positions at the prison - three corrections officers, a lieutenant and a corrections counselor.

Another 10 positions that were vacant were eliminated from the budget at a savings of $214,000, according to Fiscal Director Teresa Beckner.

The county's 889 full- and part-time employees will receive a 3 percent cost-of-living adjustment and the money saved by eliminating the positions is budgeted for a 2 percent adjustment to the county pay scale, she said.

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