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Centre OKs budget, money for housing

New administrator named

Margaret Gray

BELLEFONTE — Centre County homeowners will not see a tax increase to their county real estate taxes next year.

On Tuesday, the county Board of Commissioners approved a $82,833,780 budget with the property millage rate staying at 7.84.

In the 2017 budget, $77,333,780 is set aside for the county operating budget and $5,500,000 is set aside for the capital reserve.

The capital reserve fund will be used for capital projects and courthouse renovations, according to Denise Elbell, county acting administrator.

Also, the commissioners welcomed Margaret Gray on board as the new county administrator and chief clerk, effective Feb. 6, 2017.

Pipe announced that Gray, a native of Centre County, has had more than 30 years of experience in public administration at both the local and state level and her most recent role is director of local government and community relations at Penn State.

Her annual salary has yet to be formally approved, but the board said the figure up for action is $123,572.

Previously, Gray served as an area director for the Department of Developmental Services in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. She has also held budgeting positions with the Pennsylvania Superior Court and New Jersey State Governor’s Office of the Budget.

“It is indeed an honor to be selected to serve as Centre County’s next administrator,” Gray said. “Centre County government certainly has a long and rich history serving the citizens of Centre County and I look forward to joining with the Commissioners, the elected officials, staff, and the communities in this important work.”

The board also discussed the county’s potential contribution to GreenBuild, an affordable housing duplex project brought forth at the last meeting by the State College Community Land Trust.

At the Dec. 13 meeting, Ron Quinn and Peg Hambrick of SCCLT requested the county’s financial support, in the amount of $25,000, for the approximately $700,000 project. The project would build two independent, energy-efficient homes, connected by a carport, on University Drive in State College, Hambrick said at the previous meeting.

The construction for each home would cost approximately $250,000, with the cost of the land at approximately $150,000, in addition to start-up costs. Each GreenBuild home would cost $175,000 to the homeowner and it would produce energy savings through the use of various built-in technologies and applications, according to Hambrick.

The commissioners had decided to put any action on hold until further discussion was made about using money from the county’s Act 137 fund, which is used for affordable housing projects.

In the past, the county has not given such a large sum of money to smaller projects and $15,000 would be a more acceptable amount, explained Commissioner Mike Pipe.

Currently, the county Act 137 fund has approximately $850,000, which took the county eight years to build, Elbell explained at the Tuesday meeting. The most amount of money the county has awarded from the fund has been used for bigger projects. Elbell said that the biggest award the county has made was $100,000 toward the Bellefonte Mews project.

Among the commissioners, the price tag for the GreenBuild project was the biggest concern for funding more than $15,000. Commissioner Steve Dershem was especially concerned.

“My heartburn is that you’ve got two units for $700,000, which by any definition, I think, is not ‘affordable housing.’ Now, I realize $150,000 of that has been donated by the Borough of State College for the purchase of the land or property. If I look above and look at the cost of most of those houses [in the Borough], I’m seeing the high end, for instance in 2016, is $259,000, and most of the other years, it’s hovering in probably the $150,000 range.”

Pipe pointed out that the GreenBuild homes will be considered affordable in a town like State College, where a majority of homes are on the higher end of the affordability spectrum.

After discussion, Commissioner Mark Higgins made a motion to approve Centre County using $15,000 from its Act 137 fund to support the GreenBuild project, with the hope that SCCLT will make an annual report of the project’s progress to the county planning department.

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