Commissioners see no tax hike, balanced budget

WELLSBORO – Tioga County commissioners say they are “holding the line” on property taxes again in 2014, as they look forward to achieving a goal – making the county debt-free.

The nearly $18 million proposed preliminary budget is “actually lower than last year by $1.7 million. Last year it was $19.6,” Commissioner Erick Coolidge said.

Millage will remain at 6.75.

“It’s a guarantee, we will be debt-free by 2014,” Coolidge said.

Commissioner Mark Hamilton noted “the great thing is that it frees up $500,000 for us to use on other things, to keep taxes down once we are debt free.”

Coolidge attributed the good management practices of all county department heads, whose budgets overall were at or below 2013 levels.

Act 13 natural gas impact fee money also has contributed to keeping taxes low, Coolidge said, but there are no plans to lower them in the future, he added.

“We did that for political reasons in the late ’90s and it saved each household $25 a year on average and when we had to raise them again, it cost each household $200 bucks,” he said.

“The economy is in a constant adjustment. If we continue to manage the county’s finances we won’t be coming out to ask for more, but we will definitely be investing it to hold the line,” he added.

The only difference in how each department’s budget was calculated this year is the inclusion of retirement and insurance costs in each department’s budget, rather than as part of the general commissioner’s budget.

Breakdowns by department are:

Domestic Relations Department, Director Mark Spencer:

Last year’s budget came in at $438,400, this year is $474,292, which includes $39,300 for retirement costs.

Sheriff’s Department, Sheriff Tom Young:

Last year’s budget was $328,269, and this year’s is $355,494, which includes retirement costs of $30,000 $6,000 worker’s compensation coverage and $9,000 for liability coverage, a total of about $46,000.

District Attorney’s office, DA George Wheeler:

Last year’s budget was $410,800, this year it is $458,900, including $51,700 retirement expenses and $4,000 for liability insurance, totaling just over $55,000.

Department of Human Services, Director Max Harrison:

Last year’s budget was around $17 million, this year it is closer to $15 million, with much of it due to the county’s transition out of the drug and alcohol clinic business at St. James Place and the sale of Highland Chocolate, as well as changes in the department’s day care program.

The county’s match this year is 14 percent, up from last year’s 12.6 percent, but before that it was 15 percent, Harrison said.

The difference is due to a reduction in state reimbursement, along with increase in placements in probation and children and youth, and unfunded mandates from the state, he said.

“So when the budget goes up the local match goes up, too,” Harrison said.

Under the state’s new block grant funding, the department is looking to keep $70,000 from last year, but “we also asked for an additional $80,000 to be retained, and if that happens it will reduce that $159,000 figure by $80, 000,” he added.

Probation Department, Chief David Stager:

This year’s budget is $712,000, about $60,000 higher than last year, for adult probation operations, with pensions and insurances added in.

On the juvenile side, this year’s budget came in at $550,000, compared to last year’s $387,000, a difference of about $163,000.

According to Stager, the department only gets revenue if there are kids in placement, “and we didn’t have any.” This year there are two, he added.

Veterans Affairs, Director Tim Cleveland:

This year’s budget is about $110,000, compared to last years of $124,000, again including retirement costs and insurances.