Decisions loom on 2019 county taxes, budget

LOCK HAVEN — The Clinton County commissioners will unveil their preliminary 2019 budget in less that two weeks.

But before that, they will look at a lot of numbers and make important decisions.

That includes whether or not to raise property taxes.

The commissioners declined to speculate on property taxes for next year.

“We will be presenting the initial budget at the Nov. 29 commissioners’ session. Our meetings with department heads are done, the gathering of information is complete. We have a list of personnel requests and budget updates from various departments in place,” county Chief Clerk Jann Meyers remarked Thursday as the commissioners spent a few minutes talking about the process of adopting a budget for next year.

“Now it is decision-making time,” Meyers said.

The commissioners will atttend the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania fall conference next week, prior to Thanksgiving.

“We have nonprofits asking for donations … the library, the historical society, the rail trail and more … we have the voting machine mandate, and other issues. These issues are all that we will be talking about throughout next week. In our minds, we need to figure out where we stand on these issues,” said Commissioner Pete Smeltz.

In October, Smeltz said, “We are not currently spending more than anticipated. It looks like we may be closing with a surplus for fiscal year 2018 … but we don’t have those final numbers yet. We have a lot of proposals for increases in funding, but there are also plenty of ways to combat that and find the funding these programs need without raising taxes.”

“I don’t like to see growth when it means the costs will be more, but we can deliver,” Smeltz continued.

“It is too early in the process to tell if a rise in taxes will be necessary,” Commissioner Paul Conklin added.

The commissioners must adopt a 2019 budget by Dec. 20.

Per the law, the commissioners must post the budget online for public review at www.clintoncountypa.com.

The commissioners did not raise property taxes this year. The 2018 budget showed expenses of $38,623,548, down from the 2017 budget of $42,296,831. County wages, salaries and benefits made up approximately 45 percent of 2018 budget.

That is without the commissioners honoring many personnel requests from county department heads last year, it was noted.

This year, the commissioners settled a new contract with the union representing deputy sheriffs, prison officers, cooks, maintenance and court employees. The three-year pact includes pay raises, but also requires them to pay more for health care insurance.

About 140 members of Council 86 of the American Federal State and County Municipality Employees Union (AFSCME) received annual wage increases of 2 percent this year; 2.25 percent in 2019; 2.5 percent in 2020 and 2.5 percent in 2021.

But, they are required to pay more for their health care insurance premiums over the life of the contract. The contract was retroactive to Jan. 1, 2018, but runs through Dec. 31, 2021.

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