Lebanon County Commissioners approved the 2020 county budget Thursday, Dec. 26, with no changes from the preliminary budget and no increase in taxes.
Millage stays the same, at 3.2925 mills.
“There are no changes to the budget that would change anything for the public,” said Jamie Wolgemuth, county administrator.
The last county real estate millage increase occurred back in 2016, Wolgemuth said.
Wolgemuth added, however, that the good news is not going to continue indefinitely, as there are “significant increases” in some areas that can’t be sustained in future years without either additional revenue or cuts in services.
The budget had been preliminarily discussed at the Dec. 6 commissioners meeting and put out to the public for comment before final approval on Thursday.
The county’s budget is $86,810,931, with most of that number ($51,769,410) being the general fund.
Commissioner Bill Ames had been concerned about the need for an increase in taxes; something he had wanted to avoid.
“This is an answer to our prayers,” Ames said.
Commissioner Joellen Litz was also pleased with the budget outcome.
“It’s always a good year when you don’t have to raise taxes,” Litz said.
The pending sale of four acres of county land is one of the main reasons why taxes were not raised for 2020.
The four acres are located on the corner of Walnut and East Cumberland streets, adjacent to the driver licensing center.
“Without this injection of revenue, the revenue growth is almost non-existent,” Wolgemuth said.
Real estate tax revenue is seeing little increase, said Wolgemuth. Property values are high and residential construction is taking place, but several commercial assessment appeals have been reduced.
The county is also embarking on its largest project ever, the construction of a new facility for the Department of Emergency Services, including “911” dispatch.
Initial funding was included in 2019 to begin a potential site exploration and early construction of the facility.
Currently, an architect and project manager have been selected, while selection of the site is in the final stages, Wolgemuth said.
Facility design and bidding will start this coming year. Long-term borrowing will be necessary for the cost of the building and all radio communication equipment, Wolgemuth said.
Replacing the main public elevators in the county municipal building will also begin in 2020. The existing elevators are original to the building, dated back to the 1960s.
The cost for replacing the elevators is budgeted at $620,000, with 23 percent of that figure being the city’s share. The county’s share of the cost is being covered by the Capital Project Fund.
Other projects include roof replacement at the jail, for $300,000, and software upgrades in the property assessment office at $115,000.
The county’s purchase of a voter-verifiable paper record system, a mandatory state purchase, cost $800,000, with nearly 80 percent expected to be reimbursed by the Commonwealth.
Other significant costs, according to Wolgemuth, are coming from the areas of Public Safety, including the county jail and county support to Children and Youth Department.
In 2019, the county entered into a contract with PrimeCare Medical for comprehensive healthcare services.
While benefiting with more in-house healthcare services, it also added an increase of $2,000,000 at the jail.
Support costs to Children and Youth is up due to the increasing need for juvenile and delinquent facility placements.
Employee salary increases for 2020 include: 3.5 percent for court-appointed professionals; 3.5 percent for correctional officers; three percent for county detectives; and three percent for non-union employees.
Employee health insurance premiums are increasing by five percent in the coming year.
Other county budgets include: Children and Youth, $9,380,029; Mental Health, $8,563,666; Department of Emergency Services, $4,311,081; Area Agency on Aging, $3,854,533; Renova Center, $3,651,685; Domestic Relations, $3,246,944; Drug and Alcohol, $1,813,097; and Crime Victims Program, $ 240,753.
The full budget can be viewed in PDF form at this link.
Controller Robert Mettley was on hand to chair the annual meeting of the retirement board with the commissioners.
He advised the commissioners of a new state pension law that requires the cost of living to be reviewed once every three years, in relation to retirees’ benefits.
If pensions are adjusted to the current cost-of-living numbers, it would increase the retirement fund to $1,176,440, increasing the county’s annual contribution by $679,000.
Commissioner Litz asked if it was mandatory to make that increase.
“I don’t think, in my opinion, that we could support those numbers,” Litz said. “For one thing, we’re not 100 percent funded, so for stability, it would be more fiscally prudent if we did not.”
Mettley said keeping pensions the same was acceptable.
“The new law says we must review and consider the cost of living, and by us discussing this and keeping it (pensions) the same, we have fulfilled the requirement,” Mettley said.
Mettley also told the commissioners that a new mortality table, especially geared to government employees, is expected to be available in the next year.
“What effect that will be, I don’t know,” Mettley said. “But I am supposing the result will show people are living longer and people are working longer, increasing the retirement contributions.”
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Full Disclosure: The campaigns of Bill Ames, Bob Phillips, and Jo Ellen Litz were advertisers on LebTown during the previous election cycle. LebTown does not make editorial decisions based on advertising relationships and advertisers do not receive special editorial treatment. Learn more about advertising with LebTown here.