Centre adopts proposed budget with no tax increase

BELLEFONTE — Centre County remains committed to preventing a tax increase, with a new budget calling for no increase for the eighth consecutive year.

During their meeting Tuesday, the Centre County Board of Commissioners adopted the county’s proposed 2018 budget, which comes to about $75.6 million in expenditures. About $73.9 million of that is for the county’s operating budget and about $1.8 million is for capital reserve. Total revenues come to about $73.1 million.

The county millage will be holding steady at 7.84 mills.

“It’s a huge credit to the department management and staff in Centre County government,” said Commissioner Mark Higgins. “I know of a broad variety of other counties that had significantly larger deficits than Centre County is projecting, and in actuality, I think for the last two years we projected small deficits. Then, as the budget year went on, we ended up with a very small surplus.”

County administrator Margaret Gray explained that the process included review of the current year’s budget and expenditures, along with an analysis of 2018 projected revenues and proposed allocations of funds. In early September, each county department submitted a budget request.

“Budget meetings were held with all departments to discuss these requests, which continue the same level of services and programs for 2018, as well as support for a few new initiatives,” Gray said.

One new initiative in the new year’s budget is the county’s drug court program. However, the majority of the funding for the program comes from the three-year grant it received from the Department of Justice, Commissioner Steve Dershem explained. The Bureau of Justice Assistance grant totals $400,000, with a county match of $133,493.

Other projects in the county budget include courthouse renovations, a new camera system upgrade for the county correctional facility and a public safety training site. These will be covered by capital project funds, according to Tom Martin, county director of financial management.

The 2018 budget also includes continued funding of the Centre County Heroin and Opioid and Prevention Education initiative, also known as HOPE. According to Dershem, HOPE remains a county priority and approximately $10,000 will be set aside for it in the new budget.

When it comes to 2018 expenditures, Martin said human resources is the largest category at 32 percent, or $24.3 million. The second largest is county corrections at 18 percent, or $13.4 million. The third largest category is judicial, which takes up 13 percent, or $10 million, and administrative services make up 11 percent, or $8.6 million.

Other expenditures include debt service ($3.6 million), internal service ($4.4 million), capital projects ($1.8 million), protection and inspection ($3.8 million), conservation and development ($2.3 million), with $3.4 million remaining for other allocations.

Revenues for 2018 include federal and state grants and payments in lieu of taxes ($29.2 million), general county real estate taxes ($23.4 million), debt county real estate taxes ($4.2 million), internal charges for services ($4.5 million), and departmental earnings ($11.8 million).

Next year, county employees are expected to receive a 2 percent increase in the new year. Martin said that total salary expenditures will see a 0.4 percent increase, compared to the current budget. Total compensation, of both salaries and benefits, will see a 3.7 percent decrease from the current year.

“A lot of hard work has gone into this, a lot of effort, and it truly represents our commitment to continue these services to the people of Centre County,” said Commissioner Mike Pipe.

There will be a 20-day public comment period for the 2018 budget, which can be found online at centrecountypa.gov. Final budget adoption will take place at the Tuesday, Dec. 19 Board of Commissioners’ meeting.