County seeks solutions to deficit without tax increase

MARK NANCE/Sun-Gazette Hughesville resident Betty Steinbacher questions the county's property reassessment to Lycoming County Commissioners Rick Mirabito, left, and Jack McKernan during the county Budget Outreach Meeting at Hughesville Library Monday.

HUGHESVILLE — The Lycoming County commissioners presented a 2018 preliminary budget showing revenues of $93.1 million at the Hughesville Public Library Monday evening.

Though the revenue figure increased by about $1,500 over what was presented at the commissioners’ Oct. 23 meeting, the expected total deficit increased to $7.79 million, according to the preliminary budget summary. The projected expenditures for 2018 are $102.79 million.

Still, the commissioners say they are looking for other ways to bring in revenue before considering a tax increase. Any tax increase implemented would be the fourth in the past 30 years.

“Our budget’s telling us that this county needs a 1.25 or 1.5 mill increase,” said Commissioner Tony Mussare. “We are trying to re-direct.”

A property tax increase of 1.25 mills would be an increase of about $125 per year for a property assessed at $100,000. The current millage rate of 5.75 amounts to roughly $575 in property taxes per average homeowner for the year.

In an effort to stave off a tax increase, the commissioners are instead having excess property assessed for potential sale, formulating back-up plans for the White Deer Golf Complex in the event it does not become profitable by the end of 2018, and looking into programs that could help save taxpayer dollars now and in the future.

The county spends close to $9 million between the county prison, pre-release and re-entry programs, Mussare said. The prison population was “skyrocketing,” he said, forcing the county to spend over a million per year to house prisoners out of county.

“You have three commissioners here who are forward-thinking, as far as prevention. If we could take half the money that we spend here (prison, pre-release and re-entry), and put it towards prevention — guess what,” Mussare said, “we would reduce this number tenfold. I truly believe that.”

Another effort to save taxpayer dollars and avoid a tax increase is to minimize the county workforce through attrition, or eliminate or combine positions as employees retire or otherwise leave county jobs. Commissioner Rick Mirabito is aiming to cut 20 positions, which he said will save roughly $1,24 million per year.

“The sky is not going to fall in and the world is not going to come to an end if we reduce the number of employees or if we reduce certain programs,” Mirabito said. “Organizations have a tendency to expand and part of what our job is, is to come in and try to make them shrink. As difficult as it is, we have to do it now.”

“If the economy booms and we see tremendous growth, then maybe we can do a little more. Maybe we can expand,” Mirabito added. “But, some of these programs, we didn’t have five years ago. The world’s not going to come to an end.”

The next meeting to discuss the 2018 proposed budget will be held from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Nov. 9 at the Jersey Shore Public Library. Pending public comment, the commissioners will vote on the budget at their regularly scheduled meeting on Dec. 7.