County budget: Tax hike unwanted, but future goals correct

The bad news is that the Lycoming County budget of more than $100 million in 2018 will require a 0.75-mill real estate tax increase.

That’s never a good thing.

But arguments may be made that this is the most responsible budget the county commissioners have passed in several years.

And, if the commissioners follow through on stated goals, county government will be in better fiscal shape a year from now than it has been in quite some time.

The budget deficit for the year is $1.53 million, the lowest county operations deficit since 2006. The commissioners have been using operations surplusses far too much for far too long to pass budgets with heavy red ink.

They must move to eliminate that practice in the future.

Commissioner Jack McKernan said the commissioners were moving in that direction but ran out of time and will work toward a balanced budget in 2019 during the coming year.

The new budget reduces county government employment rolls by 12.5 positions through attrition and consolidation of responsibilities, saving about $750,000, and are looking to do more of that in coming years.

The deficit to operate the White Deer Golf Complex is projected at $40,000 for 2018, compared with $150,000 two years ago and $80,000 this year.

Plans are to sell off some acres of the facility to a developer to clear up all accounts payable and the line of credit and make the complex profitable in the future.

The county’s taxpayers have been subsidizing the golf course for years and the commissioners have turned the complex over to a private management firm with a self-sustaining operation in mind.

The county also has excess property it hopes to sell in the coming year to generate valuable new revenue.

As Commissioner Rick Mirabito correctly pointed out, state government forecasts for coming years show a debt of $2.19 billion by 2022 if trends continue.

That likely will mean reduced help from the state with the county budget. The best insurance against that being a catastrophic development is a solid county budget.

The tax increase is unwelcome, but the goals for the future are the correct ones.