How often should county taxes go up?

KATELYN HIBBARD/Sun-Gazette Above, John Shireman, of Jersey Shore, a former Jersey Shore Area School Board member, addresses Commissioners Tony Mussare, Jack McKernan and Rick Mirabito at their final public outreach meeting for the proposed 2017 budget Thursday at the Jersey Shore Public Library.

Despite an increasing deficit and a decreasing reserve fund balance, Lycoming County commissioners are hesitant to raise taxes in 2017, but one county taxpayer disagrees.

“You’ve got to raise them incrementally along the way so you’re not blindsiding (taxpayers) with a 1 millage tax increase,” said John Shireman, of Jersey Shore, who previously was a school board member.

The three county commissioners met with about five county residents and a few county employees at the Jersey Shore Public Library Thursday evening for a town hall meeting to discuss the 2017 preliminary budget.

The county currently has a deficit of roughly $9.5 million, down from the $11.7 million projected by the preliminary budget when it was first published on Tuesday. Additionally, it has a reserve fund balance of $21 million that it will be able to use to balance the budget, according to Beth Johnston, director of Fiscal Services, who also attended the meeting.

The current tax rate in the county is 5.75 millage, or $575 per a home worth $100,000 every year.

Johnston added that while the county is not required to keep a certain percentage in its fund balance, a best practices model suggests they should keeping at least two months worth of funds in the account — roughly $16 million.

As the commissioners look to the coming year they anticipate making decisions about county personnel, court programs, a possible property reassessment and renovations to the White Deer Golf Complex.

Shireman cautioned against spending too much money without a tax increase, because down the road when an increase is needed, it will be higher than what some are able to pay.

Commissioner Tony Mussare said that raising taxes incrementally would actually mean that taxpayers have to pay more in the long run than if taxes were raised about every decade.

Mussare advocated for keeping the county’s fund balance low so that it only spends money on necessary items and is transparent about the specific cost of county business.

Another county resident, who asked not to be named, said that he pays less to the county in taxes than he does to his local school district or local municipality.

Mussare added that the county provides a lot of services beyond what it receives from taxes, making up some of the excess cost through federal and state grants.

To dwindle the deficit, Commissioner Rick Mirabito advocated for cutting programs that the county cannot currently support. He named the GEO Reentry Center as an expense the county is not required to have and that should be cut.

“In some ways we are a debtor county,” Mirabito said. “We have to get our financial house in order.”