Category: Local News

County Tax Rate Proposed to Stay the Same

Armstrong County Financial Advisor Carly Cowan reads the highlights from the proposed 2015 budget- which needs $1.4 million more to balance but will not increase County taxes for a second straight year.

By Jonathan Weaver

County departments and pass-through organizations are expected to spend $1.4 million more in 2015, but taxpayers won’t be paying an added cost.

As presented by County Financial Advisor Carly Cowan yesterday morning, the $20.8 million General Fund budget is increasing, but for a third consecutive year, taxes will remain the same.

“The millage rates are kept the same overall – we were able to shift half a mill from debt service to general purpose, creating some money to cover the increase we were seeing in the General Fund budget,” Cowan said. “There have been some additional expenses, but with the shift in millage, we’ve been able to manage them, preliminarily, in the 2015 budget.”

The nearly-50 individual department budgets collected vary – with some department heads submitting budget decreases and some budget increases.

While the Commissioners’ office is projected to bring in about $6,000 less in revenue next year (about $105,000), expenses might rise more than $18,000.

Commissioner Richard Fink attributed the increase directly to increases in healthcare and pension costs.

While the Planning department is projected to bring in about $100,000 more in revenue, expenses are expected to increase about $108,000.

Planning and Development Executive Director Rich Palilla said different planning grants could have been expended within the year – such as grant funds dedicated to each municipality through the Community Development Block Grant program.

“If you look over the past five years, it varies widely,” Palilla said. “There’s no change in operational cost – the staff stays the same – so it really has to do with outside sources.”

He said planning officials are always diligently searching for grant programs to recoup costs.

A three-percent salary increase to employees was also added into the projected funding plan.

Cowan praised the department leaders for managing their expenses.
“I think that they’ve done a good job to manage within their individual budgets,” Cowan said.

Commissioner Chair David Battaglia said Cowan will still be going line-by-line with the departments until the final budget passage in a final effort to “tighten our belts” and find any savings.

“What we’re doing now is we’re trying to plan several budgets – we can only do so much for so long,” Battaglia said. “We’re going to be working diligently with our departments and elected officials to streamline.

“We have to look at every aspect of every budget – but at the end of the day, employees cost us a lot of money, but you don’t want to cut services. We’ll start with the basics.”

He added the ultimate goal should be to attract new homeowners to spread out the overall taxation.

“By keeping taxes from being raised, that sends the right message to encourage people to want to move here,” Battaglia said.

Some decreases to other funding sources – such as Community Action (more than $650,000), Liquid Fuels (more than $500,000) and the Armstrong County Health Center (more than $250,000) does not impact the General Fund.

The County Capital Improvement Fund increased nearly $100,000 – to $150,000 – in anticipation of installing an Information Technology “switch.”

“It’s a large piece of machinery – very critical to our whole, county-wide network, and we’ve been kind-of limping along as it’s been getting older, so its going to need replaced and we want to be proactive in that,” Cowan said. “I don’t have the final number on that.”

County assessed values will also decrease $4.6 million.

The last county tax increase – two mills – was in 2012
The preliminary budget figures will be available for public inspection until the final budget vote at the December 18 meeting.

 

 

NexTier Adult Education Center Toured, Praised

 

By Jonathan Weaver

The new NexTier Adult Education Center at Lenape Tech was toured by County leaders, dignitaries and school board members and praised during an open house last night.

Practical Nursing Program Coordinator Kimberly Doms took school directors on tours before a public open house and was thankful the facility is finally open for nursing students.

“It’s pretty exciting – that dream has now come true,” Doms said. “It’s a phenomenal space. The students and faculty both enjoy it tremendously.

“We’ve (only) been here a couple weeks so we’re still working the bugs out, but it’s a phenomenal space and so grateful to be here.”

More than 80 students and eight instructors currently utilize the new space.

New classroom space allows for a skills lab and simulation lab, with the technology available at West Hills but crowded as opposed to the now-“user-friendly” area.

NexTier Bank donations also allowed for a new computer lab and other technology – which administrators are grateful for.

A group of nearly two dozen will graduate in December and a new class starting in January

“The Practical Nursing program is going strong,” Doms said.

Kayla Miller of Rural Valley will graduate from the nursing program next month, and said she has no regrets.

“If you look at the reviews for Lenape, they’re phenomenal – the passing rate I think was a 98, 99 when I looked last year,” Miller said.

“If you sign up here, you’re almost guaranteed success if you try.”

Fellow Upcoming Graduate Kimm Sanders of Monroeville attended Indiana County Technology Center, but said Lenape Practical Nursing is more of a “learning” school.

“I was here for two weeks, and went on-and-on about things I learned here,” Sanders said.

Miller – who graduated in 2005 from Elderton High – and Kelly Lundstrom of Ford City – who graduated from Ford City High in 2004 – both did not think they would end up in nursing when they graduated. They make up only a handful of students from the Kittanning/Ford City area.

Petra Messina of Cranberry Township attended St. Francis for an RN certificate more than 20 years ago and has worked for more than 30 years in various areas of healthcare – including currently as a part-time nursing assistant for UPMC.

She said the new skills will help her stay in the field and further her career.

A career fair will be held with employers Monday

Carrie Lewis of Apollo graduated September 12 from Lenape Practical Nursing and has received multiple job offers since. A former ACMH CAN, she is looking for a better opportunity.

Her daughter, Bry Shoup, is now a first-year student and was a 2011 Lenape Tech Allied Health/Sports Medicine graduate.

“It’s a good program – a lot of people know about Lenape,” Lewis said.

Former Freeport School District Representative Meredith Christy came up with the idea for the building nearly 10 years ago

“I had a vision of having a nice Adult Ed Center to promote education in Armstrong County,” Christy said. “It took 10 years of struggle, but it’s finally done.

“NexTier Bank and all the sending school directors supported this and was a big player in this. I’m glad t he current Joint Operating Committee saw my dream through to the end.”

HHSDR President and Architect J. Greer Hayden said it was a “challenging project” in permitting processes and a limited budget. His firm has also already begun promoting the new facility.

“When you look at the end-result, I think we did a pretty good job,” Hayden said.

Manor Township supervisor Paul Rearick attended with Supervisor Chair James McGinnis.

“It’s a beautiful building –it’s been a logistical nightmare for (Lenape) to put this all together, but I’m glad we were able to work with them and help them get up-and-running.”

Joint Operating Committee President Joseph Close (representing Armstrong School District) and Administrator Dawn Kocher-Taylor praised Facilties and Property Coordinator Curtis Fahlor during the project.

“We can all say we’re a little smarter and educated about the process,” Close said.

Fahlor said it was a team effort.

The facility across from Lenape Tech in Manor Township will also soon house Adult Education students.