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Franklin County budget good for taxpayers, so far

November 30, 2007|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - For the second year in a row, property taxes are expected to remain unchanged in Franklin County after the Board of County Commissioners on Thursday unveiled a preliminary 2008 budget of $114,867,326.

The budget is actually smaller than the current year's budget of $129,732,610, primarily because the biggest capital project from the past two years, the $30 million Franklin County Jail, is completed, Fiscal Director Teresa L. Beckner said. Capital project spending will be about $6.9 million next year, compared to $24.5 million in 2007, according to the budget summary.

Removing the jail construction from the formula, Beckner said spending in all other categories will increase approximately 2.6 percent in 2008. The county is financially healthy, she said, with a fund balance of nearly $7 million projected for the end of 2008.

Property taxes are currently 21.15 mills for the general fund, 3.1 mills for debt service and 0.6 mills for the Franklin County Library System for a total of 21.75 mills. That translates into $21.75 in taxes for every $1,000 of assessed value on a property.

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A property with a market value of $100,000 would have an assessed value of $9,800 in this county, Commissioner G. Warren Elliott said. Based on that, the county property tax would be $207.27, he said.

That's about tied with Cumberland County for the lowest among the dozen nearest counties, Elliott said.

On a Dauphin County property with the same market value, the owner would pay $515.50, according to figures he cited based on Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development and County News magazine.

This will be the final budget for both Elliott and Commissioner Cheryl Plummer, who did not run for re-election after three terms in office. Commissioner Bob Thomas was re-elected to a fourth four-year term.

Some candidates in the recent election made an issue of county debt, but all outstanding debt is accounted for, Elliott said.

"Every penny of debt is accounted for in taxes already in place," he said.

The one area where taxes might increase is the dedicated tax for the libraries, which is assessed in 18 of the county's 22 municipalities. Bernice Crouse, the executive director of the library system asked the county to increase the tax to 1 mill, increasing revenues to about $1.2 million.

The board did not act on the request Tuesday, but Elliott said it will be considered. Final passage of the budget is set for Dec. 20.

Elliott said the budget will have funding for planning projects next year, including a facilities study that will look at the possibility of a fifth judge being added in a few years, space requirements for agencies, reuse of the old Franklin County Prison, and an update of the comprehensive plan.

There is also $1.8 million budgeted for farmland preservation, he said.

Public safety expenditures next year are budgeted at $15.7 million. Included in that are funds for a new center and increased staffing for the 911 center and a sprinkler system for the Falling Spring Nursing and Rehabilitation Center.

The general fund, made up primarily of local taxes and fees for services, totals $34.5 million. Of that, almost $21 million will be spent on the judicial system and public safety. Of every dollar in local taxes collected, 74 cents goes to crime, courts and corrections, according to the budget summary.

The approximately 850 full- and part-time employees have already received a pay adjustment this year, in part due to the increase in the federal minimum wage. The two lowest pay grades have been eliminated.

According to a copy of the county pay scale, a starting receptionist making $6.86 an hour would now be paid $7.56. Court criers, tip staffs and food service workers who started at $7.20 will now make $7.90.

"We're working to make the wages of employees more competitive," Elliott said. The county has yet to set wages and salaries for next year, but Elliott said there is money in the budget to raise pay 3 percent to 5 percent.

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