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Mussare looks to tackle property tax reform, other issues

Lycoming County Commissioner Tony Mussare shares concerns that many people have about property taxes.

But as a local government official who serves as chair of the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania (CCAP), he perhaps has a bigger voice for pushing some type of tax reform.

Mussare recently huddled with other county commissioners from across the state to come up with five priorities the CCAP hopes to address.

In addition to property tax reform, the officials are calling for increased dollars for mental health services, a solution to the emergency medical services crisis, expansion of rural broadband, and funding for adult probation.

“I will tell you this. It’s not getting any better for people as far as taxation,” Mussare said. “People will tell you that the property tax is the only equitable way of taxation, but there are so many options.”

Mussare said he is concerned about senior citizens on fixed incomes who can’t afford their property taxes and in jeopardy of losing their homes.

It’s one reason there needs to be other tax options for counties.

“Schools are not the only local governments relying on the antiquated property tax system for local funding. Counties provide a host of mandated services but are only authorized to impose one tax — the property tax,” Mussare said. “We cannot forget that any tax affects not only the person who pays it, but also the government that must provide critical services and address infrastructure needs in its communities. Counties must have a seat at the table for ‘property tax reform’ to truly be a reality.”

With its declining population, Mussare said a city such as Williamsport is especially burdened with the property tax, which is assessed on municipalities by the city and the school district as well as the county.

“If you eliminated the property tax, you have to make it up somewhere. There are no easy solutions,” he said. “I will be working hard on property tax reform.”

Mussare noted that increased funding for mental health is at the very top of the list of concerns prioritized by commissioners.

As chairman of the Lycoming County Prison Board, he has learned that many inmates of the local jail system are struggling with mental health issues.

He noted that the prison system is filled with inmates taking psychotropic medications.

Bringing broadband to rural communities, Mussare called, “a top priority for commissioners.”

“There is no doubt that it will be an economic driver to a county,” he said. “People need to have it.”

Slow speed internet hookup burden businesses and residents alike.

Mussare noted that many students living in rural areas cannot properly carry out school assignments without broadband.

“Kids in school, in some cases, have to go to places such as Sheetz or McDonald’s to do their homework,” he said.

Mussare said finding enough people to staff jobs in emergency medical services is a big problem.

Exploring ways to incentivize people to get the training needed to staff those positions is perhaps one part of the solution.

The CCAP EMS Task Force is working with state policy markers to address policy and funding solutions, according to Tioga County Commissioner Mark Hamilton, co-chair of the Task Force.

“In particular, we will be working to allow county or multi-municipal authorities that would be capable of county-wide or regional EMS service delivery,” he said. “The Task Force also will work to develop a toolbox that can assist each county in bringing together local stakeholders to review coverage needs and counties will strive to be an active partner with state policy makers in seeking policy and funding solutions to assist with this crisis in the coming year.”

Officials noted that a shift in focus to pre-trial supervision is stressing the adult probation system, leaving counties strapped for adequate funding.

Clinton County Commissioner Jeff Snyder said, “At the same time, the expectations of the county probation system are increasing, this funding pattern limits how effectively counties can use adult probation programs as part of a comprehensive criminal justice system. Counties will benefit from funding support that will be provided through the second phase of the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, but additional state funding will still be necessary for counties to continue to keep pace with the growing need for adult probation services.”

Snyder called for enhanced cooperation among commissioners and judges to assure these funds are being directed to appropriate services

Mussare said he’s confident that CCAP can make a difference in bringing about some reforms.

It comes down to being passionate about the issues, he said, but also listening to the concerns of the people.

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