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Franklin Co. budget has slight tax increase

December 09, 2005|by BONNIE H. BRECHBILL

bonnieb@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Franklin County's proposed 2006 budget of $124 million is an increase of 35 percent over 2005, but property taxes only will increase by one mill, according to the county's Fiscal Director Teresa Beckner.

The average home value in Franklin County is $101,729; the one mill increase will mean a tax hike of $14.50 per year, she said after the Board of County Commissioners met Thursday morning to review the budget.

While the overall budget increased by 35 percent, taxes will increase by between 4 percent and 5 percent. This is the fourth tax increase since 2001, when property taxes were 10.9 mills, according to county records.

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"We're charging $174 in taxes and delivering $925 in services," Commission Chairman G. Warren Elliott said. "We leverage the money we collect. Nobody does that better than we do."

The tax increase was necessary, Beckner said, because "we have a continually increasing demand for services which are mandated by the state and federal governments and decreased funding to pay for those services." Human services, election equipment and the court system are some of the mandated services, she said.

Currently, 18.05 mills go for county operations and 3.1 mills for debt service.

Large expenditures in 2006 will be for the new, $30 million prison, the agricultural services building on Franklin Farm Lane, mandated election equipment and improvements to the 911 system, including a Geographic Information System. Some of the expenditures are initial investments with long-term savings, Beckner said.

Some costs are unavoidable. "We can't walk away from the unattended child," Elliot said. "The state can say they are not going to reimburse us, but we have obligations. We are the safety net."

Beckner said 46 new positions were requested by various departments, a figure that was cut to 19 in the final budget. Eight of those are in the court systems and one in ag extension. Most are grant-funded, she added. The county has 912 employees.

Those employees will be paying 7 percent more for health care, and benefits will stay the same, Beckner said.

The county saw a 4.1 percent growth in the tax base in the past year, which means an additional $1 million in property tax revenue, Beckner added.

"That's a genuine boost," as growth usually runs between 2 percent and 2.5 percent, she said.

Human Services expenditures increased 7.7 percent for such programs as Aging, Drug and Alcohol, Mental Health/Mental Retardation and Integrated Transportation.

Elliott said 2006 will be an exciting year for the county.

"We're seeing significant work toward the completion of the new jail, 911 will be upgraded with a cell tracking system, we've budgeted twice the (2005) amount for farmland preservation, we will have our own tourism bureau, we will maintain health benefits for our employees and they will receive a fair wage increase. The senior centers continue to be upgraded," he said.

Elliott said the county is fourth in the state for the number of dollars brought back for veterans, "even though we're 27th in numbers of veterans. We're proactive on quality of life issues. We did a lot of trimming to make the new things happen."

Beckner said those preparing the budget tried to keep individual department budgets lean.

Other counties have much larger tax increases, Elliott noted. "With the same $100,000 house, in Fulton County you'd be paying 26 percent more in county taxes, in York 29 percent more, in Adams 32 percent more, in Perry 55 percent more, and in Dauphin, 122 percent more. The surrounding counties average 53 percent higher county taxes than we do."

In the $30 million general fund, paid for mostly through local taxes, the budget calls for a 1 percent decrease in both administration and customer services, a 3 percent increase in Human Services and Crimes, Courts and Corrections, and a 2 percent decline in public safety.

Crime, courts and corrections account for 77 cents of every $1 in local taxes, according to the budget summary.

The budget will be available for public inspection for 20 days. The commissioners will receive comments, then reconvene to consider final adoption. Commissioners may change the budget by no more than 5 percent, Elliott said.

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