Lebanon County Commissioners approved the preliminary 2020 county budget at their meeting this week, a proposed budget of $86,810,931 that does not include a millage increase.
The last county real estate millage increase occurred in 2016, said County Administrator Jamie Wolgemuth.
Currently, millage stands at 3.2925 mills.
While that all sounds good, it can’t continue, Wolgemuth said.
He cited significant increases in some areas that won’t be able to be sustained in the future, unless there are “sizable” cuts in services or additional revenue.
In 2020, the county budget is increasing by $3,357,228, or four percent; and the General Fund expenses are increasing by 10.73 percent to $51,769,410.
Real estate tax revenues are seeing very little increase, Wolgemuth said.
Property values remain high, he said, and some residential construction is taking place, but gains have been offset by reductions from commercial assessment appeals.
The report indicated that local county government seems to be in good financial shape as it begins what is probably the biggest groundbreaking in the county’s history; a new dispatch center for emergency services.
“This is the largest project the county has ever undertaken,” Wolgemuth said.
The new dispatch center is second only to a hospital when it comes to cost of construction, Wolgemuth said.
Funds were included in the 2019 budget to explore the possibility of either acquiring a structure for the new “911” center or building their own.
It appears that the decision has been made to build and site-selection is in the final stages, Wolgemuth said.
An architect and project manager have been hired for the new center that will house the emergency (911) dispatch and the rest of the Department of Emergency Services.
It’s an exciting time for the project, Wolgemuth said, as 2020 will see the site being acquired, the facility designed, and even the beginning of bidding for services.
While site acquisition will be made with funds on hand from prior borrowing, the cost of the building itself, the necessary technology, and the radio communication equipment will all require long-term borrowing, Wolgemuth said.
Costs include changing technology, dispatch equipment, and personnel salaries, and Wolgemuth said, “It is rather expensive.”
Until the land for the project is purchased, total costs for the new emergency center are not known.
The coming year’s budget will include revenue from the sale of four acres of county land at the corner of Walnut and East Cumberland streets, adjacent to the Drivers’ Licensing Center.
Sale of the land has been in negotiations for three years, Wolgemuth said. He did not disclose the name of the buyer or the lot’s new purpose.
The land will be sold for about $750,000 and settlement is expected to be made by June of 2020.
“By next year, there won’t be that cash to bring to the budget to balance it,” Wolgemuth said of the one-time sale.
Each year, Wolgemuth said, revenues remain level while costs increase.
Some of those increasing costs, Wolgemuth said, come with Public Safety, specifically the county jail and county support to Children and Youth services.
In 2019, the county entered into a contract with PrimeCare Medical for healthcare services at the jail.
PrimeCare Medical does provide more comprehensive services and more in-house care, Wolgemuth said, but it is also the reason for an increase in healthcare costs of more than $2 million.
Financial support to Children and Youth is up due to increased demand for juvenile and delinquent facility placements.
General salary increases are as follows: court-appointed professionals, up 3.5 percent; correctional officers (in AFSCME) 3.5 percent; county detectives union, 3 percent; and non-union employees, 3 percent.
A number of departments are still in negotiations.
County employee health care premiums have increased by 5 percent for 2020.
In 2019, the Capital Fund was used to buy a voter-verifiable paper record voting system, as directed by Governor Tom Wolf.
The cost of the system was about $800,000, Wolgemuth said, with nearly 80 percent of that figure expected to be reimbursed by the Commonwealth, to return to the Capital Project Fund.
Major expenses for 2020 will include the replacement of the main public elevators in the municipal building. The elevators are original to the building since the 1960s, Wolgemuth said.
“We’ve been experiencing some problems with the controls and it’s time to replace them,” Wolgemuth said.
The cost for the elevator replacement is $620,000, with 23 percent of that amount to be paid by the city and the county’s share being funded by the Capital Project Fund.
Other projects will include $300,000 for roof replacement at the jail and $115,000 for software upgrades in the property assessment office.
The commissioners also approved funding requests for a number of non-profits, agencies, and public events, including:
- $5,000 to the Mt. Gretna Outdoor Art Show for shuttle bus use and extra parking personnel
- $5,000 to the Downtown Lebanon Main Street Program, for a “Maker Fest” in 2020
- $9,750 for improvements to the basketball courts at Coleman Memorial Park, in anticipation of a basketball tournament for young people
- $10,000 to maintain and water the Community of Lebanon’s hanging baskets and planters
- $5,000 to the Lebanon Rotary Club to advertise the 10th Annual Lebanon Bologna Fest and Winter Carnival to be held in January
- $10,000 to the Community Health Council to promote cycling and support bicycle tourism
The preliminary budget will be on display in the county offices until Dec. 26, when it will receive a final vote from the county commissioners. It can also be viewed in PDF form at this link.
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