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Taxes hold in Franklin Co. budget

December 06, 2006|by DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Franklin County property owners will see no change in county real estate taxes in 2007, according to the $127.5 million preliminary budget unveiled Tuesday by the Board of County Commissioners.

The real estate tax rate will remain at 21.75 mills, which includes 3.1 mills for debt service. One mill equals $1 for every $1,000 of assessed value on a property.

The proposed budget is a 2.3 percent increase over the current year's spending package of $124.5 million, Fiscal Director Teresa L. Beckner said. The board of commissioners must vote for final approval of the budget before the end of the month.

"Last year we had a great increase in the budget overall because of the construction in the budget," Beckner said. That included a new prison at a cost of approximately $30 million. Beckner said about $14 million of the cost of the new jail will be spent in 2007.

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Warden John Wetzel said the prison will be completed under budget and will open in late spring.

Along with the jail, other projects in 2007 will bring capital spending to about $24.4 million, Beckner said. Spending next year will include a new emergency communications radio system and GIS tracking system for the 911 communications center.

Beckner did not have complete figures for those improvements, but said about $3 million will be spent on the radio system. Commissioner G. Warren Elliott said the GIS system will allow the center to track 911 calls from cell phones, including in the increasing number of homes that no longer have land line telephones.

Other projects scheduled for this year are $2.5 million for a Agricultural Heritage Center on Franklin Farm Lane, $2.4 million to purchase development rights on prime farmland and $1.5 million for a sprinkler system at the Falling Spring Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, Beckner said. The sprinkler system is being paid for with a grant, she said.

The county will spend about $5 million in 2007 to purchase development rights on about 3,000 acres, Planning Director Phil Tarquino said. About half of that will be state funds, he said.

The county has preserved more than 10,000 acres of farmland since about 1989, Elliott said. Only five other Pennsylvania counties have preserved more land over the past five years, he said.

Tax revenues are expected to increase $1.9 million to more than $27.5 million as the county benefits from growth in commercial and residential properties, Beckner said. Investment income, thanks to higher interest rates, are projected to increase $1.2 million to $4.3 million, she said.

Commissioner Cheryl Plummer said the county also is benefiting from health and wellness programs and risk-reduction programs that resulted in no increase in the cost of health-care coverage next year.

The budget will include $25.5 million in state subsidies for county programs, as well as nearly $12 million in federal subsidies, according to the budget summary. Charges for services will add another $29 million.

The largest category for expenditures is human services at $52.5 million - a $5 million increase - for programs such as Mental Health/Mental Retardation, Drug and Alcohol and the Area Agency on Aging, according to the budget. The public safety budget is increasing about $1.5 million to $15.2 million.

Judicial costs will increase more than $600,000 to about $8.7 million.

The cost of crime, courts and corrections will account for 74 cents of every local tax dollar collected, according to the budget, down from 77 cents this year.

County departments and offices requested more than 40 new positions, but only 17 were put in the budget, several of them grant funded, Beckner said. The prison tops the list with six and the District Attorney's Office and Public Defender's Office will get three new positions each, she said.

"There seems to be a high statistical correlation between no tax increase or a low tax increase and an election year," said Carl Barton, secretary of Citizens for Responsible Government. The county commissioners are up for election in 2007.

"What did he want us to do ... raise taxes to prove him wrong?" Plummer asked.

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