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Property taxes increasing by 3 1/2 mills in Franklin Co.

November 20, 2008|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. -- Times are tough all around and they will be tougher next year for Franklin County property owners when real estate taxes increase 3 1/2 mills to fund the proposed $115.2 million county budget.

The increase is the first since a 1-mill hike in 2006, Fiscal Director Teresa Beckner said, but the county also will be using $1.2 million from its general fund reserve to balance the budget. The increase will bring in a projected $4.5 million in additional revenue for a total of $29.6 million.

"We're sitting on a pretty healthy general fund reserve," enough for the county to operate more than 60 days, Beckner said. Unlike some counties, Franklin County will not require a tax anticipation note to pay its bills at the beginning of the year, she said.

One mill equals $1 for every $1,000 in assessed value on a property. County Chief Appraiser Gary Martin said the taxes for each $100,000 in market value on a property will increase from the current $219.96 to $256.36.

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The tax rate in 2009 will be 24.65 mills, which includes 22.55 mills for operations and 2.1 mills for debt service. Because the repayment of bonds is going well, debt service was dropped from 3.1 mills this year, with the extra mill going to the general fund, Beckner said.

The county also has a 0.8-mill library tax that is levied in all but four of its 22 municipalities. Final passage of the budget is set for Dec. 11.

The county has more than 900 full- and part-time employees who are slated to receive wage and salary increases of 4 percent, Thomas said. The cost of health insurance for the county, however, is going up $675,000 to $4.2 million and employees will pay more than half of that increase through higher deductions, County Administrator John Hart said.

A higher family coverage plan offered by the county will go from $162.29 per pay period to $205.88, although basic single employee coverage still will be paid by the county.

"People are going to be working harder and they're going to be working smarter with fewer staff and we're going to reward them," Thomas said when asked about the pay increase. Employees also will be paying more for medical coverage, he said.

County elected officials, including the commissioners, will receive a 3 percent increase in 2009 and 2 percent in 2010 and 2011, rates set by a previous board.

Rising costs combined with flat or reduced state and federal subsidies and the housing slump are affecting the county's revenue and its contribution to human service and other programs it administers, but which largely are paid for with state and federal funding, Beckner said.

"When the state announced its budget ... we realized there would be some challenges," Thomas said. The state budget, which runs from July 1 to June 30 as opposed to the county's calendar year budget, includes a 1 percent increase in state funding for human services.

"They've already come out and reduced those allocations" further, Human Services Director Rick Wynn said. More cuts in program funding are expected as the state faces a growing 2008-09 deficit, county officials said.

The revised total budget for 2008 is $118.1 million, almost $3 million higher than the proposed 2009 budget. Part of that is due to changes in payments to mental retardation providers, which now will be paid directly by the state rather than passing through the county, Beckner said.

The general fund, that portion generated by local taxes and fees, will increase from $35.8 million to $39.9 million. Beckner said the county will get about $600,000 from the growth in the assessed value of properties, but that is less than 2 percent, well below the 4.6 percent growth of 2007.

Out of a dozen counties in south central Pennsylvania, Franklin County ranked third for the lowest property taxes in 2008 behind Cumberland and Lebanon counties, according to a chart based on information from the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development.

Several county departments submitted 2009 budget requests that were below 2008 levels, Thomas said. A hiring freeze and other cost-cutting measures are expected to produce about $1 million in savings by the end of the year, Beckner said.

About 73 cents of every local tax dollar will go to the court system and corrections, and the county has no control over the crime rate, Commissioner Bob Ziobrowski said.

"These are necessary costs ... We won't cut corners when it comes to the safety of our citizens," Ziobrowski said. Running the county jail will cost about $8 million, Warden John Wetzel said.

The budget of the Falling Spring Nursing and Rehabilitation Center will increase 2.5 percent to $14.9 million, said Carol Knisely, owner of QUnique, a nursing home management and consulting firm.

Trimming the nursing home budget further "would be irresponsible ... we'd just be putting people in danger," Commissioner David Keller said.

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