It is unlikely the Lycoming County commissioners will increase county real estate taxes in 2012, but there is no telling how long county government can go on without such an increase.
That is according to Commissioner Ernie Larson, who spoke Monday to the Williamsport Rotary Club.
"I don't think we'll have a tax increase this year, but you don't go on forever without taxes going up," said Larson, a Democrat.
A future tax increase is inevitable because things cost more, he said. The county also is being saddled with the cost of providing services traditionally paid for by federal and state governments, he added.
"That means taxpayers at the local level will probably have to absorb that," he said.
Larson, a two-term commissioner who is one of four candidates seeking three commissioner seats in the upcoming general election in November, discussed issues the commissioners face, including the crafting of an annual budget.
The budget process starts each June with the commissioners meeting collectively with the county's 22 department heads, he said.
The commissioners then interview department heads individually to discuss funding needs, he said.
"It's a lot of work, but in the long run, it pays off," Larson said, adding that the commissioners have reduced spending over the last two budgets after passing a $110 million budget three years ago.
Two years ago, the budget came in at $99 million, while last year's budget came in at $96 million.
Larson said the county's real estate millage rate, 4.75 mills, has remained the same since he became commissioner. That tax rate is among the lowest in the state, Larson said.
County real estate taxes account for only about 25 percent of the county budget, he said. The rest is federal and state funding and grants that are passed through to local agencies that provide services for the county, he said.
Larson said Lycoming County is the only county in Pennsylvania that operates its own landfill. The landfill is a state-of-the-art facility that brings revenue to the county. That, in turn, allows county residents access to low-cost garbage collection, he said.
The landfill is undergoing an expansion to allow it to remain open for decades, possibly until the year 2050, he said.
Larson said the county recycling program, which is located at the landfill, also is state-of-the art. Much of the work done at the recycling center is done by inmates at the county prison, he said.
The county is expanding the types of recycled materials it processes. It recently began accepting chip board, which is the material used for cereal boxes and beverage containers.
Chipboard sold for $52 a ton, but now demands $156 a ton or more, he said.
"It's going to end up being a revenue source for Lycoming County," Larson said.
Larson said educating people about recycling will help reduce the amount of material placed in the landfill waste fields.
He also discussed the county's response to the recent flooding. Larson gave the county Department of Public Safety high marks for its response to the disaster. He added that the Federal Emergency Management Agency also was impressed with how efficiently the disaster relief center was operated.
Larson said there is no way to prepare for the commissioner job.
"You walk in with eyes closed and it is quite a learning experience," he said.
Larson said his time as commissioner has been "no hassle for me."
"I enjoy it," he said.