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Commissioners break down preliminary $9.5M deficit

With few changes from the preliminary Lycoming County 2019 budget presented last week, the commissioners broke down the projected $9.5 million general fund deficit at their second budget hearing Tuesday in Hughesville.

The commissioners intend to float a $9 million bond by the end of December, avoiding the impending interest rate increase, to be used on capital projects.

About $6.4 million of that bond will be spent in 2019 to cover the brunt of the radio system update, which includes two new tower sites for more coverage, and replacing voting machines countywide as mandated by the state.

By subtracting that $6.4 million from the $9.5 million deficit, “We’re really left with a deficit in the county general fund of about $3.1 million,” said Commissioner Jack McKernan, “and that’s what we’re working to try to trim down right now.”

The $2.6 million remaining in the bond will be used for the remainder of the radio system update in 2020 and 2021, McKernan added.

In addition to the bond, about $2.76 million was set aside as contingency — slightly over $1.4 million in case of a healthcare emergency, as recommended by the county’s insurance broker, another $1 million to start the process for a countywide reassessment, and about $350,000 as “just in case” money.

One possibility for minimizing the deficit could be reducing county contribution to employee pensions, he said.

“Our pension program is funded, I think, around 94 percent, which is pretty healthy compared to a lot of

communities and government agencies,” McKernan said. “There is a possibility that we could reduce our payment.”

A longer term goal to help increase tax revenue is to draw in new businesses, which can’t be done with constant tax increases, said Commissioner Tony Mussare.

The county has the resources that attract big companies, and monthly meetings with the Williamsport/Lycoming Chamber of Commerce have been promising, he said.

However, the county needs to invest in finding a way to train and keep a strong workforce, added Commissioner Rick Mirabito.

That said, avoiding tax increases in the future must be balanced with still providing important services to the community.

“What are you receiving for your money, and how do you compare it to other communities across this nation?” Mussare asked. “Everything’s based off what we provide as a county.”

“There’s decisions to be made, and they’re not easy decisions,” he said. “For the money that our taxpayers spend, in comparison to other communities and counties, we provide a lot of good services. I think it’s time to have our citizens say what it is they don’t want.”

“The public has to decide where it wants to put its money,” Mirabito agreed.

Fewer than a dozen community members attended the hearing.

One attendee, Ralph Bitler, of Beaver Lake, sought aid from the commissioners with his community’s sewer rates of $161 per month.

After some back-and-forth concerning the Lycoming County Water and Sewer Authority and Penn Township supervisors, Mussare suggested he and Bitler attend the authority’s next public meeting together to ask some questions and try to come to an understanding.

The preliminary budget, which will continue to be adjusted over the coming weeks, is available online at www.lyco.org and in various county offices for public review.

The final hearing will be held from 6 to 7:30 p.m. tonight at the Jersey Shore Area Library. The commissioners expect to adopt a final budget at their meeting Dec. 6.

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