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County meets with public to discuss ways to reduce 2018 budget

By Staff | Nov 22, 2017

Discussing sewer rates and seniors paying taxes at the county budget meeting in Hughesville is resident and real estate broker, Betty Steinbacher with county commissioners, Rick Mirabito, Jack McKernan and Tony Mussare.

HUGHESVILLE – During October and early November Lycoming County commissioners have been meeting with the public to go over a preliminary budget for 2018. A public meeting was held at the Hughesville Library on Monday, October 30. Many residents attended from the Beaver Lake area as they were concerned about rising sewer costs. They said that 32 percent of property owners are in delinquency at Beaver Lake. Betty Steinbacher said some residents are on fixed incomes and is hard for them to pay taxes and their sewer bill. Commissioner Mirabito addressed the concern and Kurt Hausamann director of planning said they are working with the issue, possibly approaching DEP to “figure out something differently.” They are looking for grants and according to Scott Metzger, there is no public funding for private dams. “This is a bad situation,” added resident Ralph Bitler. Commissioner Mussare suggested looking into a new holding tank. Meanwhile the Lycoming Sewer and Water Authority is an independent entity. “The county doesn’t have the power to take it over,” added Mirabito. Sewer rates for Beaver Lake residents in Penn Township have risen from $110 a quarter to $160 a month.

Commissioner McKernan announced that 45 percent of the budget has to do with the people.

Ways to cut the budget were presented. Trimming the workforce to offset wage increases, putting some things under Act 13 monies and trying to work ahead on a 3 year budget for future planning purposes were some of the suggestions.

Having a state program for early intervention for communities will prevent fiscal problems. Sheriff Lusk said there is a need to upgrade radios driven by the FCC. “Communications is extremely critical for us.” He is hoping for wireless technology. Mussare wants to try to eliminate school taxes and offered to take a look every four years at salary budgets. “As a county, our role is to provide certain services.” The 2 1/2 percent increase in county government comes to over $250,000. “Our hands are tied in many places in government.”

In the past 5 years, there has been 1.9 percent growth for the county.

Shown is the 2018 preliminary budget for Lycoming County that was distributed to residents who attended the public meeting on Oct. 30 at the Hughesville Public Library. County Commissioners will meet again Nov. 30 at 10 a.m. to add to the budget discussion before final approval.

17 to 20 percent of county residents are seniors, higher than most counties, acknowledged Mirabito. Hughesville, Muncy and Jersey Shore are higher in seniors according to Hausamann.

“Pensions are the biggest part of the budget,” added Mirabito. “When a county position becomes open, we really have to evaluate it. We can look at programs that can be cut back. We don’t want to cut the services that are good.” Most of the programming has to do with the courts according to McKernan. The opioid problem is getting out of control. Sheriff Lusk said there has been an incredible increase in crime over the last ten years. “The problem is not going away.”

The population also is decreasing somewhat. “We are not economically solvent,” they said. “There’s no tremendous growth here.” Balancing effective programs will have a long-term fiscal outcome. “We look every day where we can pinch a dollar.”

County grants have decreased from 3.8 million in 2007 to 2.7 million in 2017. “We’re a 5th class county with 2nd class problems,” said Mussare. “Seniors are the most vulnerable. They are not getting the increases.” The county has raised taxes 3 times in 30 years while school districts raise them just about every year. Currently the budget shows a $5.2 million deficit, even with a .75 mill tax increase.

“Our job is to control spending,” they said and encouraged the public to attend any of their public meetings at the Executive Plaza in downtown Williamsport. They meet twice a week. “We encourage feedback,” said Beth Johnston, director of fiscal services.