Commissioners address budgets deficit, new revenue options

ANNE REINER/Sun-Gazette Lycoming County Commissioner Tony Mussare speaks of budget woes and new revenue options with the Sullivan/Lycoming Counties Boroughs Association during its meeting at the Valley Inn in DuBoistown Wednesday evening.

Increasing infrastructure costs, coupled with a budget deficit of $9 million spurred the Lycoming County commissioners to ask the community to pull together in tough times.

The three commissioners presented a few hot-button issues during a meeting of the Lycoming/Sullivan Counties Boroughs Association, at the Valley Inn, in DuBoistown, on Wednesday evening, including representatives from Montgomery, DuBoistown, Picture Rocks and South Williamsport.

Upcoming expenses — such as roughly $18 million in local bridge repairs and an estimated $10 million in required renovations to the city levee system — have the commissioners searching for new revenue options.

“We need to have one voice on trying to get this money,” Commissioner Jack McKernan said. “It’s going to be expensive.”

Already working on next year’s budget, the commissioners again are searching for new ways to save money and increase revenue.

“It’s complicated. It’s complex. It’s exhausting,” Commissioner Tony Mussare said.

A highlighted item to cut is the number of county employees, according to Mussare and Commissioner Rick Mirabito.

Mirabito said the county hopes to eliminate about 20 employees through attrition over the next year. When an employee leaves or retires from the county, the commissioners will assess if that position should be replaced.

“If we want to save money, we have to cut the number of employees we have,” Mirabito said. “And I know it’s controversial.”

Budget cuts will need to be balanced out across the departments and staff should be cross-trained to take on a broader range of responsibilities, Mirabito said.

According to Mussare, the county has 549 full-time employees and 87 part-time employees, with an average salary of roughly $45,000.

In addition to raising property taxes, new revenue could come to the county in a number of different ways, including a $5 vehicle registration fee, a countywide property tax reassessment and an increase in the county hotel tax rate.

According to Mussare, the $5 registration fee would be used to fix roads and bridges in the county. However, during the meeting, he said that matching state funds, previously guaranteed by the state, no longer may be certain.

“We can’t get a guarantee from the state right now that they will match,” Mussare said. “Now we’re getting mixed signals.”

Mussare said the state money now only may be available for bridges under 20 feet but that will eliminate a number of small structurally deficient bridges owned by local municipalities. He said if the state doesn’t match the funds, he is in no hurry to pass the $5 fee.

However, Mirabito cautioned that even without the state money, the bridges must be replaced.

“Even if we don’t get the money from the state, these bridges are going to deteriorate,” Mirabito said.

Norman J. Cowden, DuBoistown councilman, said his borough will not have the funds to fix a bridge, and encouraged the municipalities to work together.

“We’re not going to be able to afford to go the way we are going,” Cowden said.

He said that regionalizing services and parts of local governments may be a key way to help save money.