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.