2018 Lycoming County budget proposal goes live today

Lycoming County’s 2018 budget proposal shies away from a tax increase, while offering a pay raise for county employees and outlining a spending plan for the next three years. It will be reviewed in full today during the commissioners meeting at 10 a.m. in the commissioners board room, Executive Plaza.

The proposal will be available online at the county’s website, www.lyco.org, and as a hard copy in county offices as well as the James V. Brown Library.

Public comment will be accepted through December. Pending comments that induce changes to the proposal, a final budget is expected to be adopted at the commissioners meeting on Dec. 7.

“The intent of public display is to get public comment on that budget,” said Matt McDermott, director of administration for the county. “Up until December, there’s room to make changes.”

In its early stages, the budget proposal does not reflect a tax increase and the commissioners are seeking ways to increase revenues without including a tax increase.

With expenses pushing $103 million and a projected deficit of about $7.8 million, the commissioners are hoping to boost revenues and savings through means such as minimizing the county’s workforce.

Commissioner Rick Mirabito hopes to cut 20 full-time positions through attrition. Doing so will save the county about $1.2 million per year in salaries and fringe benefits, he said. The current payroll is about $27 million and fringe benefits cost about $13 million, he added.

A 2.5 percent pay increase for county employees also is reflected in the current proposal. Mirabito said it’s important to maintain quality employees, and doing so is less costly than keeping a large quantity of employees.

“We want people to be invested in the county for the longterm. We don’t want to run a high-turnover operation,” he said at a budget hearing Monday.

But cutting positions is easier said than done, McDermott said. It’s not always possible to allow positions to go unfilled. It’s nice to think about the money saved, but how does losing that position affect the county, he asked.

“It’s not like we’re cutting 20 off an assembly line. Everything needs to be taken into account,” he said. “Can we not backfill correctional officers in the prison? No. That would be very problematic.”

McDermott said the county also is making changes to its health care in order to save money. The commissioners have said in previous meetings that employees can expect the same coverage, but a change in the way the county pays for health care will result in a lower cost.

The commissioners also have contracted with a municipal financial advisory company, called Three+One, in the hopes of finding additional savings and revenues hidden in the county’s current liquid assetts.

Attempts to bring in money over the longterm include assessing excess county properties in the hopes of selling or renting out unused buildings as well as coming up with a contingency plan for the White Deer Golf Complex should it fail to become profitable in 2018, the final year of the county’s contract with golf course management company Billy Casper Golf.

For the first time, the budget proposal will be a three-year plan, helping the county to forecast expenses and revenues for 2019, and 2020 and leaving the commissioners with more time to focus on the community, they said.

“It will improve county government tremendously,” said Commissioner Tony Mussare at a recent budget hearing.

Working out a three-year plan as opposed to the traditional yearly budget will allow county officials to observe and adjust plans as needed, McDermott said. He said the budget will be monitored and reviewed quarterly — if things change, the county will re-prioritize.

“If I know in 2020 that I’m expecting a change, I need to make arrangements in 2018,” McDermott said.

Conversely, if an expected cost becomes no longer necessary, those funds can be redistributed, he added.

“At the end of the day, the whole process of the three-year budget is a work in progress,” McDermott said. “And, at the end of the day, the commissioners are really trying to do the right things. It’s not an easy task.”