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Lebanon County Commissioners on Thursday approved a $123.9 million county fiscal budget for 2022, which includes a .6 mill tax hike.

The increase from 3.2925 mills to 3.8925 mills means a homeowner next year would pay about $3.89 in property tax for every $1,000 of assessed value on their home, an increase of about 60 cents per $1,000 dollars.

The average assessed value of homes in Lebanon County is $168,950, according to county officials. Homeowners with that value would see their taxes increased by $101.37.

Prior to approval of the budget by a 2-0 vote – Commissioner William Ames was not present at the meeting nor did he participate electronically – Jamie Wolgemuth, chief clerk/county administrator, announced several adjustments to the budget, which was introduced on Dec. 2 and available for 20 days for public review and comment.

Read More: County Commissioners will raise taxes to cover capital project, other rising costs

In announcing the budget changes, Wolgemuth said there were some financial “ups and downs” regarding the changes to the budget.

“Unfortunately, the downs were greater than the ups,” said Wolgemuth.

Savings were realized when the county tweaked their health insurance coverage for employees after conducting an audit to ensure that dependents who are on the policy are there both appropriately and legally.

“That (audit) ultimately resulted in some adjustments to the health insurance for 2022 for about $79,000,” said Wolgemuth.

The county was also able to shift $78,000 of expected expenditures out of the general fund and apply those costs to the IP-Crossroad grant following the recent announcement that the Crossroads program was ending.

On the negative side of the financial ledger, Wolgemuth said cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) expenses for healthcare services at Lebanon County Prison, as provided through PrimeCare Medical, Harrisburg, were increasing next year.

Wolgemuth said the COLA is based on a healthcare metric and not a consumer metric, which, unfortunately, comes with a higher price tag.

“So that resulted in an increase of $350,000,” said Wolgemuth about the additional COLA expenses. “So the net increase over the budget as presented on Dec. 2 is $195,000. That, again, relative to the overall $124 million budget, is not much in the way of percentage (change) or anything, but I wanted to present an accurate budget for you to consider.”

Commissioner Chairman Robert Phillips said about 60 percent of the 2022 budget is weighted towards addressing public safety, specifically for healthcare costs at the county prison and construction of the new 911 center.

The tax increase will be applied to capital projects, including construction of a new 911 Center for the Department of Emergency Services, skyrocketing employee healthcare costs and salary increases, and the ongoing expenditure of more than $3 million annually to provide healthcare services at the county prison.

Just prior to the vote to approve the budget, commissioner Jo Ellen Litz distributed a signed statement listing six safety concerns surrounding the old 911 center as well as a sentence addressing staffing issues. The statement noted an independent salary study helped to identify the lowest paid 25 percent of county employees, who will receive higher pay in the first round of salary increases as a measure to “keep current staff members and attract new hires.”

In other county business, the commissioners approved an affordable housing funding grant request by Lauren Long, director of the Women’s Shelter, and Pastor Thom Keller, Calvary Chapel of Lebanon, in the amount of $298,060, which will come from fees collected in the Recorder of Deeds office.

Long said the funding would be used for the purchase, renovation and expansion of a home at 258 S. 8th St., Lebanon, to provide housing for nine women who are on permanent disability, mostly suffering pretty serious mental health issues.

“These women, as you know, are pretty high risk in the community, and there are no women or all-women-only group homes of this sort in Lebanon County,” said Long. “So this would be a pretty unique program.”

The commissioners also convened the Retirement Board for its annual meeting. At that meeting, the board members took a number of actions. The retirement board voted to:

  • Decline to award a COLA for 2022, which would have been 4.6 percent and at a cost of over $4 million to the county. The tax increase to the budget was listed as the reason the COLA increase was declined.
  • Release retirement refunds for employees who resigned in 2020.
  • Approve Korn Ferry Hay Group to prepare pension statements for 2021 at a cost of $1.85 per statement.
  • Keep the 1/80th class retirement plan for fiscal year 2021.
  • Approve the interest payable to employees at a rate of 4.5 percent.
  • Approve the meeting minutes for all seven retirement board meetings conducted in 2021.
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James Mentzer

James Mentzer is a freelance writer whose published works include the books Pennsylvania Manufacturing: Alive and Well; Bucks County: A Snapshot in Time; United States Merchant Marine Academy: In Service to the Nation 1943-2018; A Century of Excellence: Spring Brook Country Club 1921-2021; and Lancaster...