Preliminary budget open to public for review
HUGHESVILLE – “We are trying to paint a picture ahead,” announced Lycoming County Commissioner, Rick Mirabito to a small audience last Wednesday night at the Hughesville Public Library regarding the preliminary budget set for 2017.
Trying to reduce expenses and not spend the reserves, the commissioners asked for feedback regarding county spending. A tax increase will not be necessary, but it would be unrealistic not to expect one in the future, they said. The cost of living has doubled over the last 15 years and will continue to rise.
“Payroll is our biggest expense,” said Mirabito with 643 paid employees. Beth Johnston, director of fiscal services, reported that expenses are higher than revenues. Perhaps 20 positions in the county can be reduced as retirees can be replaced with existing employees who will do more cross training.
Commissioner Tony Mussare said that more regulations are taking place and all municipalities are competing for tax dollars. “The average home in Lycoming County is worth $100,000 and property taxes are getting harder to pay for seniors on fixed incomes and young families who have education loan debts. Twenty-five percent of the people in the county are on poverty level. “We need to look at the services the county provides,” he said.
There are many paid positions from district courts, attorneys and judges on up to the prison and sheriff’s department. “We must provide these. I do not believe in having huge fund balances.”
Chris Myers said not to reassess the properties. About one third of the properties will go up, one third will go down and the other third will stay the same according to the commissioners. “Reassessments bring in more fair property values,” Mussare explained. “If no re-assessments, then taxes keep going up.” Pennsylvania is one of 6 states that do not have mandatory re-assessments which can take up to 30 months to do. McKernan said that if the gas industry comes back, property values could go up.
Questions were asked about the county landfill and the public golf course in Allenwood which are considered assets to the county. Commissioners say they want the golf course to be self-sufficient and hired a management company, Billie Casper, to run it. “Money was borrowed in 1988 and we are still in debt,” Mussare added. “We took over the debt and the assets on April 1st, 2016 to protect the county’s taxpayers money. It has value.” Some of the funds went to repair the irrigation and sprinkling systems. The commissioners plan on looking at it again in 3 years hoping to improve the water and sewer infrastructure along the Rt. 15 corridor. It is its own entity and not reflected in the current budget they said.
Barb Jarmoska from Loyalsock Township commented on the PA Wilds and asked the county to reconsider its involvement. “We need to look more to outdoor recreational opportunities,” she said. The area is a prime attraction for tourism and the outdoors, and she stated how the tourist promotion agency should be a separate entity that might bring in more tax dollars. Many come here from outside the county to use our outdoor recreational facilities. Currently the county receives over $700,000 from the lodging tax and most of this goes through the Williamsport.Lycoming Chamber of Commerce expressed Jarmoska.
Mae-Ling Kranz from Picture Rocks was very concerned about the prison system and how it is keeping recidivism rates down and controlling the prison population. A reentry services program is in place and the county is collaborating with other departments outside the courts. “There is no silver bullet for the program,” said Matthew McDermott Director of Administration. “It will take three years to for the data to determine the true rate of recidivism.” It has been a coordinated effort with volunteers, churches and non-profits to provide services for prisoners attempting to reenter society.
Mussare said many prisoners can’t be released because they have no housing to go to, and wants to look at Act 13 money to resurrect housing. “Make investments now to prevent long term expenses in the future.” However, with the Geo reentry program, the prison population is decreasing.
Jack McCoy asked about flooding and moneys available to help with flood control. This is also being looked at and the governor’s recent visit will reflect on this funding with FEMA.
Altogether three town hall meetings were held in the county to review the budget. The budget will get final approval on December 8.