No tax increase in proposed 2019 Centre County budget

PHOTO PROVIDED The Centre County Commissioners made a proclamation about Bellefonte Victorian Christmas at Tuesday’s meeting. The annual Christmas celebration will be held this weekend in downtown Bellefonte. From left, Mark Higgins, Michael Pipe, Bellefonte Victorian Christmas chair Sally Houser and Steven Dershem.

BELLEFONTE — Good news, Centre County residents: The tentative 2019 budget features no tax increase.

At Tuesday’s Centre County Commissioners’ meeting, County Director of Financial Management Tom Martin and County Administrator Margaret Gray presented the proposed 2019 budget. The 17-page packet features spread sheets, pie charts and graphs.

“This document is an important one and represents priorities and really provides us with a blueprint- our roadmap of how we go about planning and providing services and programs for the citizens of Centre County in the most efficient and effective way possible,” Gray said.

Using a PowerPoint presentation, Martin went through the highlights of the 2019 budget.

The biggest, of course, is the fact that there will be no increase in real estate taxes for the ninth consecutive year. According to Martin, the county’s general millage (6.65 mills) and debt millage (1.19 mills) remain unchanged in the preliminary 2019 budget.

Commissioner Michael Pipe was pleased to see there was no tax increase in the works.

“It’s the ninth consecutive year without a property tax increase and that doesn’t just happen,” Pipe said. “It happens through dilligence and hard work of every single team member here in Centre County.”

Some of the other budget highlights include:

– The budget includes revenues in general and special revenue funds budget categories totalling $68,991,445 – a 6.7 percent increase over the 2018 budget. It also includes expenditures at a total of $69,551,833. The increase in projected revenues exceeds the increase in projected expenses by .5 percent compared to the 2018 budget.

– It represents a total operating budget of $79,834,111 and a capital budget $3,232,000 for a total 2019 budget of $83,066,111.

– The budget maintains general fund reserves of approximately 12.3 percent. This percentage falls within the range recommended by the Government Finance Officers’ Association.

– It includes continued funding of Human Services, Drug Court and the Centre County HOPE (Heroin and Opioid and Prevention Education) initiative.

– It includes funding from PEMA to Emergency Communications (911) to complete an interconnectivity project.

r It includes increased grant funding for the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG).

– The budget includes Capital funds and encumbrances for voting machines, courthouse renovations, Guaranteed Energy Savings Program Project and the completion for Public Safety Training Building.

– The budget provides a 2 percent salary increase for employees. Covers total compensation expenditures (salary, taxes, benefits) totalling a 5.4 percent increase over the 2018 budget.

The commissioners unanimously voted to adopt the tentative 2019 county budget. They also authorized advertisement for public inspection of the budget. It is available for inspection at the Willowbank Office Building, 420 Holmes St., Bellefonte or on the county’s website, www.centrecountypa.gov.

“We’ve got plenty of time … about three weeks and we want to hear feedback from the public,” Pipe said. “We can still make amendments – and we most likely will – before we adopt it by the end of the year.”

Martin said that putting the budget together is a process that takes several months. He was pleased with the team effort, he said,

“This has been a long haul, a long process,” Martin said. “What’s really neat is the teamwork that we have throughout the county.”

There are two commissioners’ meetings remaining in December – Tuesday, Dec. 11 and Tuesday, Dec. 18. County offices are closed on Monday Dec. 24 and Tuesday, Dec. 25 for the Christmas holiday.

Tuesday’s meeting began with a proclamation for Bellefonte’s Victorian Christmas. Sally Houser, one of the chairs for the event, was presented with a certificate from the commissioners.

“I’m looking forward to it,” said commissioner Mark Higgins. “It looks like Victorian Christmas is getting bigger and better.”