County: ‘No tax increase’ for budget

LOCK HAVEN — “There will be no tax increase,” said Commissioner Jeff Snyder of the tentative, 2018 Clinton County budget unveiled at Thursday’s meeting.

The 2018 spending plan shows total expenses of $38,623,548, down from $42,296,831 in 2017.

Commissioner Pete Smeltz and Ed Zack, financial consultant with Susquehanna Group Advisors, said the difference reflects the bond or loan the county is using to renovate the prison, buy and renovate the Piper Blue building, remodel the courthouse, buy a new CAD system for the 9-1-1 center and replace two HVAC units at the Garden Building.

This year, the taxable bond issued for prison renovations totals $4,115,000 and the tax-exempt bond used for the rest of the county repairs and renovations is $2,290,000.

These costs are listed as capital projects totaling $6.4 million.

“Most of the prison project is finished,” said Chief Clerk Jann Meyers in an email. “Piper building is purchased, courthouse towers are done. The remaining amount is for the remaining projects.”

“There is not, in my opinion, a lot of fat in this budget,” said Snyder.

To help offset costs, the commissioners will use $500,000 in reserve funds to help cover employee wages, benefits and operating costs, among other things.

The board is making some assumptions on payroll costs as they are negotiating new labor contracts with unionized county employees.

Negotiations with the American, Federal, State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 86, which contains two unions representing about 130 employees working in the courts and prison “are still in progress,” Meyers said.

“We’re hopeful,” she said, that new agreements can be reached before the existing contracts expire on Dec. 31.

One group is called the Court Related and Court Appointed Employees, and the other is Corrections Officers, Cooks and Maintenance Workers at the Clinton County Correctional Facility and Deputy Sheriffs.

As The Express reported Tuesday, since 2012, the county has created between 20 and 26 new positions, some of which were derived out of new state laws meant to further protect children in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse case.

“We continue to be aware of the growth that we’ve mentioned in the county,” Snyder said.

Heading into 2018, the tentative budget lays out increases in Children and Youth Services’ employee wages and benefits, plus operating costs, totaling $440,189 more than this year.

The commissioners are also budgeting an $850,629 increase for wages and benefits and other investments.

This year’s proposed budget also includes grants the county receives and, in turn, appropriates to various public services.

For example, the HOME grant totaling $215,000 will “assist people with finding housing,” said Smeltz.

The Life Center and the Clinton County Women’s Center will use these funds to place people.

The commissioners said they’re trying to be disciplined with spending in 2018 by not including a number of personnel and capital requests.

They would not go into specifics, preferring to discuss the requests with county department heads first.

Smeltz did mention that commissioners are looking into funding sources for the rail-trail project in Castanea Township, part of a larger effort to link to the Pine Creek Rail Trail. That was left out of the 2018 budget.

“It was difficult to find money in this year’s budget to do that,” he said.

Commissioner Paul Conklin said developing a budget is a long, hard process to go through in order to stave off a tax increase and provide funds for important services.

“We don’t have an endless well of money here to do what we would like to do,” he said.

Also Thursday, the commissioners approved three change orders for the prison totaling $31,025 for electrical, HVAC and plumbing.

“I don’t know how many more change orders we’re gonna get,” said Smeltz.

He reported that the project manager for the prison renovations said the work will come in under budget.

In personnel matters, commissioners approved the hiring of Misty Snook as a full time correctional officer at the prison with an annual salary of $28,891.

They promoted Shawn Carr from a computer systems support specialist to a technical support analyst/programmer in the MIS department at an annual salary of $39,662, following the departure of part-time worker Daryl Geyer.

Additionally, they transferred Lori Rhoads from corrections officer to dispatcher trainee in the Department of Emergency Services at $11.50 an hour, with plans to move her to full time upon the completion of her training.

The commissioners also terminated Benjamin Smith, who was recently hired as the resource conservationist for the county Conservation District.

Meanwhile, the commissioners have decided to take the position of director of elections and reconfigure it to also serve as deputy chief clerk.

As a result, they’ve lowered the salary to $38,111 annually.

The commissioners approved that change as the salary board, minus Treasurer Michelle Kunes, who was absent.

Snyder said the commissioners held off on advertising the position, which is not currently occupied and follows the departure of Maria Boileau to the city, until they were able to change it.

“We felt obligated to look at other counties with like populations,” he said, and found that similar counties paid their directors of elections and voter registration less than Clinton County.

All three commissioners said they are satisfied with the budget presented.

Per the law, they have posted the budget online for public review at www.clintoncountypa.com and will vote on it Thursday, Dec. 21.

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