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Franklin County budget is largest ever

December 30, 2005|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, PA. - Capital expenditures on buildings and technology account for much of the 34.7 percent increase in spending in the 2006 Franklin County budget, although not all of the money for those projects will come directly from county taxpayers' pockets, according to Fiscal Director Teresa Beckner.

The $124.7 million budget that received final approval Thursday from the Board of County Commissioners is about $32 million more than the $92.6 million spending plan for 2005, said Beckner. Capital projects account for $26.8 million in spending, up from $3.7 million this year, she said.

"When you look at 2006, it will be the most busy ... probably in the entire history of the county," said Chairman G. Warren Elliott. The projects are needed to address existing problems and future needs of the county, he said.

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Real estate taxes in the budget will increase 1 mill to 18.05 mills, according to budget figures. Elliott said the average value of a home in the county is $101,729 and, based on that figure, the tax increase amounts to an additional $14.50.

Property owners will also pay 3.1 mills for debt service and 0.6 mills for the county library system, both of which are unchanged from 2005.

Construction began this year on a 450-bed, $30 million prison in the Cumberland Valley Business Park that Beckner said is scheduled to open in the first quarter of 2007. Funding for the prison comes from a $39 million bond issue approved in 2004, she said.

That bond issue also included $4 million to modernize the county's public safety radio system, much of which Beckner said will be spent next year, and $5 million for farmland preservation. Beckner said $2 million from the bond issue is budgeted for the purchase of development rights on prime agricultural land in 2006.

The following capital projects are also in the 2006 budget:

$2.5 million for an Agricultural Heritage Center on Franklin Farm Lane. Beckner said the money will primarily come from funds left over from a 2002 bond issue.

$1.4 million for a Geographic Information System. Beckner said almost all the funding for this project comes from the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency and will give the county's 911 center the capability to track emergency cell phones calls to within feet of their location.

Approximately $1 million in county funds for a Day Reporting Center. The center will be used to provide drug and alcohol treatment, counseling, job training and other services to criminal offenders as an alternative to prison, Beckner said.

The site of the center has yet to be announced, Beckner said. Many of the services to be provided at the center will rely heavily on state subsidies, she said.

More than $1 million for new election equipment. Nearly $800,000 of that is to be paid for with federal funds, Beckner said.

County Deputy Chief Clerk Jean Byers said the federal Help America Vote Act requires the county to purchase ballot tabulating machines for each of its 74 precincts, as well as an equal number of machines to accommodate voters who are hearing, visual or other impairments.

The board Thursday also approved resolutions to create the Franklin County Visitors Bureau after earlier announcing it would withdraw from the Hershey-Capital Region Visitors Bureau.

Beckner said the bureau will be funded primarily through proceeds from the county's motel tax, which generates more than $400,000 a year.

The general fund, that portion of the budget paid for primarily by county taxes and fees, will increase from $26.1 million this year to $30 million in 2006, according to the budget. Real estate tax revenues will increase from $19.5 million to more than $21.4 million.

The balance of the budget is paid for largely by state and federal funds, such as Medicaid reimbursements to the Falling Spring Nursing and Rehabilitation Center and subsidies to programs such as Children and Youth Services and Mental Health/Mental Retardation, Commissioner Bob Thomas said.

Growth in real estate values will add about $1 million in revenues, while the tax increase will account for about $1 million more, according to the budget. Fees for services will bring in a projected $5 million.

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