County budget woes prompt worthy talk on several issues

The current deficit for the proposed 2017 Lycoming County budget is $9.7 million.

That fact alone makes questioning of the overall budget and proposed changes suggested by Commissioner Rick Mirabito worthy of discussion.

To cut the operations deficit to $4.8 million, Mirabito is in favor of eliminating the county’s day reporting center as well as eliminating 20 county positions by not replacing the employees who leave.

Additionally, he said the county should use the hotel tax for recreational programs such as the White Deer Golf Complex, the Community Arts Center and the Thomas T. Taber Museum of the Lycoming County Historical Society, all currently funded through the county’s general revenue budget.

In addition to those changes, he would advocate selling off some excess land and a half-mill tax increase to trim the deficit spending.

We agree that the county can’t continue with deficit budgeting.

And in our view, the ideas are all worthy of serious discussion by the commissioners, whose year has been marked by refreshing candor and open dialogue on important issues.

In particular, whenever a budget includes an operations deficit, public bodies need to consider staffing cuts by way of attrition.

But we would say the county should proceed with caution on all of the other  changes.

The day reporting center seems to be meeting the top goal of reducing the county prison population, putting a halt to a situation that was leading the commissioners three years ago to consider a new, unaffordable, $40 million prison.

While it is fine to talk about the use of hotel tax monies and their impact on the county budget, those discussions need to be conducted in the context of how the monies are currently used and how those operations would be impacted by any changes.

As for a tax increase, we always thought that was supposed to be a last resort.

Local taxpayers get it from all sides and have been hit particularly hard in the past year or two. They should not be expected to accept any tax increase without some cynicism.

The commissioners need to publicly discuss these and other ideas as part of the serious decisions they need to make about the county’s 2017 budget in the next week.