County budget: deficit spending must end soon

The earliest projections for the 2018 Lycoming County budget show a $7.4 million deficit – and no tax increase.

The projected deficit has been less each of the past three years. Moreover, the actual deficit during each of those years has actually been less than expected.

But the practice of deficit spending can’t continue forever.

To that end, we are heartened by news that the Community Arts Center and the Thomas T. Taber Museum will be funded through the hotel tax revenues of the Lycoming County Visitors Bureau rather than by property taxes to county government. Those are expenses that clearly connect to the hotel tax revenues. We also support the county’s plan to evaluate major buildings for potential future sale. The value of the buildings to county government is questionable at best.

Scott Metzger, deputy chief of the adult probation office, suggested selling or renting out the Third Street Plaza. He said the amount the county pays to house certain organizations combined with the cost of keeping empty buildings running is too much. He believes the building probably could bring in $2 million to $3 million at least in a sale. We suspect the Executive Plaza is worth just as much.

With the county carrying operations deficits every year, operating and maintaining these properties is a luxury taxpayers can’t afford. Metzger accurately termed them empty real estate.

Beyond these hot-button items, we urge county government department heads to sharpen their pencils and bring down the projected operations deficit. Just because there are funds to cover the debt does not mean deficit spending isn’t a bad practice.

Deficit budgets eventually will catch up with county leaders and taxpayers.