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Franklin County Commissioners consider property tax hike

Because of state cutbacks, 911 center and nursing home are requesting more funds for 2013

November 29, 2012|By JENNIFER FITCH | waynesboro@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. — Franklin County, Pa., property owners are facing a possible tax increase as the county commissioners hammer out the details of a 2013 budget that reflects increased spending at the 911 center and county-owned nursing home.

On Thursday, the county’s fiscal director presented a $107.3 million spending plan for the general fund.

She and the county administrator cautioned that draft included all requests from department managers and would be subject to trimming.

“This is an all-requests budget,” County Administrator John Hart said. “We don’t anticipate this being a final budget, but this is what has been requested.”

That budget reflected an $8.7 million deficit.

To help fill the gap, Hart asked the commissioners if they wanted to consider a tax increase and what the target amount would be. The commissioners put forward one-half of a mill as a potential tax increase.

A mill represents $1 for every $1,000 of assessed property value.

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A half-mill tax increase would cost the average homeowner $9, county officials said. It would generate $660,000 in revenue, they said.

Earlier this week, the director of the Franklin County Library System asked commissioners to increase the county library tax by three-tenths of a mill for the 2013 budget.

Library officials said the hike would by less than $10 more per year for most taxpayers. The commissioners have not made a decision on the library tax increase request.

Of the proposed expenditures in the early budget draft, about $49 million represented salaries and benefits.

The Franklin County Department of Emergency Services asked for $2.5 million, compared to the $1.9 million in its 2012 budget. The Falling Spring Nursing and Rehabilitation Center is requesting a $942,100 budget, compared to $500,000 in the 2012 budget.

Fiscal Director Teresa Beckner said both of those entities are experiencing slumping revenues from fees and reimbursements. The proposed emergency services budget includes technology for mapping and making connections with neighboring Adams County, Pa.

Department managers requested 20 new full-time positions and one part-time position. Some of those requests are existing jobs being funded by grants that are expiring.

Hart said that, in his opinion, the personnel requests most likely to be filled are in information services, the planning department, housekeeping, and positions that improve efficiencies or provide better services for the public. He said the final budget will probably include a cost-of-living increase of 2 percent to 2.5 percent for employees, and some wage adjustments to remain competitive as an employer.

The county has a 17 percent turnover rate among staff, which is significantly higher than other Pennsylvania counties, Hart said.

“The 17 percent turnover rate is not productive,” Commissioner Bob Ziobrowski said, saying the county loses experience and spends money in training when replacing people.

“No one is served if we don’t provide competitive wages,” said David Keller, chairman of the commissioners.

The auditors recommend the county keep 60 to 90 days of operational spending in reserve, Beckner said.

At the end of this year, the county will have about $14.4 million in reserve, she said.

Commissioner Bob Thomas emphasized the importance of keeping money in reserve. In 2008, state lawmakers failed to pass a budget before their deadline and caused payments to stop for social services provided by counties.

Ziobrowski highlighted several state-mandated programs that, combined, are short more than $1 million in operating funds. He criticized the state.

“Basically, they’re squeezing their (subcontractors) and taking all the credit for balancing the budget,” he said.

Representatives of the probation, emergency services, corrections and information services departments talked to the commissioners about how they generated their requests. They demonstrated a model they are using to set priorities within their departments.

The commissioners plan to adopt a preliminary budget next Thursday, release it for public review and finalize it in late December.

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