By Jonathan Weaver
For the second year in a row, county residents will not see their taxes go up at the hands of the county commissioners.
Thursday morning, commissioners unanimously adopted the $20.7 million General Fund budget for 2015.
“We really looked to see that every penny was accounted for,” Commissioner Chair David Battaglia said.
Financial Advisor Carly Cowan said projected costs actually decreased during the past month.
“There was only a slight change from the preliminary budget – it actually decreased about $105,000,” Cowan said. “We were able to make some adjustments in our healthcare that benefit the county as a whole – a positive impact on the General Fund, in particular, and reduce the amount of operating reserve needed to balance the budget for this year.
“There weren’t any other substantial changes. The individual departments should be about the same – the groundwork is pretty-much laid with the preliminary budget.”
Cowan explained that some employees at the Armstrong County Health Center in Kittanning joined the county’s health plan – which lowered the county allocation.
With the budget passage Thursday, Cowan will now release final budget allocations to each of the county department leaders.
“My job is still not done,” Cowan said.
For example, 911 Coordinator Ron Baustert said the biggest factor that accounted for more money needed in his department is a new 10 year/$2.99 million radio maintenance agreement with Motorola Solutions, Inc..
“We’re still running the radio system under-warranty right now. The warranty expires June 30, so our first payment comes due in July,” Baustert said. “Every county has to purchase and maintain their own radio towers/equipment tied to the switch in Greensburg.”
Baustert said the first payment of $148,000 will be for radio maintenance. It would have been about $300,000 per year, but Armstrong County is only paying for less than half
“(With) all of the technology that has been added in the last eight to 10 years at 9-1-1, keeping it up-to-speed becomes a significant cost,” Baustert said.
He said because of the need for additional funding, he did not ask for money in other areas – such as tower inspections.
As explained by Cowan in November, county commissioners will shift half a mill from debt service to general purpose, creating some money to cover the increase in the General Fund budget.
The final financial figures showed more revenue toward many county departments – such as County Controller Myra Miller’s office, Tax Claim Bureau Director Jeanne Englert’s office and in the County Planning and Development office – but the nearly-50 individual department budgets collected vary – with some department heads submitting budget decreases and some budget increases.
Last month, Commissioner Richard Fink attributed an increase in expenses directly to increases in healthcare and pension costs.
A three-percent salary increase to employees was also added into the funding plan. Those salaries will be reviewed at the first Salary Board meeting – of which all three county commissioners are a part of – at the beginning of January 2015.
Battaglia said in November that the lack of a tax increase encourages people to move to the County.
The County Capital Improvement Fund increased nearly $100,000 in anticipation of installing an Information Technology “switch,” Cowan said last month.
The last county tax increase – two mills – was in 2012
Commissioners also allocated $16,120 out of the county’s Marcellus Shale Legacy Fund for a retaining wall along North McKean Way as part of the Downtown Kittanning Revitalization Project.
Cowan, also the county Marcellus Shale Coordinator, said about $60,000 in legacy fund dollars were received in 2014 and about the same amount is anticipated for 2015.