Hard economic times affecting Franklin County budget

September 26, 2008|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. -- A slumping real estate market, death penalty cases, the possibility of a fifth judge as early as 2010 and lower state funding are factors affecting the outlook for Franklin County's 2009 budget.

Those and other issues will make it a challenge to hold the line on property taxes, according to the Board of County Commissioners.

"One of the challenges we're going to have is that the commissioners last year took $2.2 million out of the county reserve fund to balance the budget," Commissioner Bob Ziobrowski said. The fund started 2008 at about $8 million and has grown since, but the county does not want to draw it down too much, he said.

Many counties borrow money at the beginning of the year to fund operations until revenues begin to flow into their coffers, Commissioner Bob Thomas said. Franklin County has traditionally used its reserves for that purpose, rather than a tax anticipation note, he said.


Register of Wills and Recorder of Deeds Linda Miller told the board at her budget hearing Thursday that filing fee revenues for deeds and mortgages are well behind those of 2007.

The fees are projected to bring in $860,000 this year, compared with $1,168,000 last year, she said. Realty transfer taxes, which are split between school districts, municipalities and the state, topped $7 million in 2007, but were just $3 million through the first nine months of this year, she said.

Miller requested $15,000 in computer hardware and $170,000 for software. She asked the county to contribute $85,000 from the general fund so that her technology budget would not be depleted.

Sheriff Dane Anthony said his office listed 169 properties for sheriff's sale because of foreclosures or delinquent taxes in 2007, a number he projects will hit 325 this year. Some of those properties were later pulled from the list as owners paid up, he said, but the paperwork for his staff is the same.

Handgun permit applications are way up, said Anthony. In January of this year there were 181 applications, compared with 96 in January 2007, he said. Anthony asked the board for two more clerks and another deputy for 2009.

Three criminal homicide trials could take place in 2009 and each defendant is potentially eligible for the death penalty, said Court Administrator Neil Burkholder. The last county death penalty case was in 2001 and the extra costs incurred for the trial amounted to $76,000, he said.

Adjusted for inflation, a death penalty case could cost $100,000 more, depending on whether it goes to trial, Burkholder said.

Last week, District Attorney John F. Nelson requested an additional assistant district attorney position to start in July 2009, based on the possibility of the court having a fifth judge as early as 2010. Nelson also requested a legal secretary for the county Drug Task Force, Thomas said.

Prothonotary Linda Beard asked for another employee on the assumption that a fifth judge could be added in 2010, Thomas said.

Earlier this year the commissioners said the county might have to pick up more of the cost of running its human service agencies after the state passed a 2008-09 budget with almost no increase in funding for those services.

This year's budget is approximately $115 million. The board anticipates passing a preliminary budget by Nov. 20 with final passage on Dec. 11.

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