Commissioners avoid tax increase in ‘18 county budget

Warren County’s 2018 spending plan is now on the books and it does not include a tax increase.

The nearly $16 million budget was approved by the county commissioners at a Friday meeting.

Commissioner Ben Kafferlin thanked his fellow commissioners and the fiscal office for “pulling this together” in what he described as a “smooth process overall.

“Most of the heartburn came last year (when we) had to do a minor tax increase,” he added. “(We) do not need a tax increase in 2018.”

He then walked through each of the line items in the budget. Here are the highlights of that presentation:

Warren County Jail

Kafferlin said that the jail’s budget – the largest single cost driver in the budget – is “only going to increase a few thousand dollars.”

The jail came in under budget in 2017 and is projected at 3,185,371.

He said that can be credited “in large part due to excellent management. There certainly were added expenses. That is by far the biggest department of any budget in the county.”

Sheriff’s Office

Kafferlin said the Sheriff’s office 2017 budget was approximately $991,000 and is “roughly keeping that the same.”

While, he explained, it was over budget by nine percent due to overtime and lease expenses, Kafferlin said the commissioners met with the sheriff and concluded that the “hope” is they “do not need that level of overtime” in 2018.

911

Kafferlin said 911 expenses are up 18 percent over 2017 but said the reason is due to additional state funding as well as 911 funds coming from Forest County as Warren will be handling some of their emergency dispatching.

Probation

Kafferlin said this department is going “up a few percent” from 708,000 to 735,000.

“They have committed to helping us with overtime,” he said, noting they are projected to be under budget by five percent in 2017.

District Attorney

Kafferlin said the 2017 budget was $471,00 and will increase to $553,000.

“This is largely due to a county detective,” he said. “(We) agreed to increase the wage for a county detective.”

He said the DA’s office is “projected” to be over budget in 2017 due to employee attrition and insurance.

Assessment

Kafferlin said Assessment will see a budget increase from 338,000 to 437,000. “But that number is largely increase” to the Pictometry process approved earlier this year and offset by other revenues.

Commissioners

The line item for the commissioners office will rise form $384,000 to $399,000, Kafferlin said, because the salary of the chief clerk, who previously had HR responsibilities, was split with another agency and now is fully under the commissioner’s line.

In short, Kafferlin said that the county’s match portion for Human Services is increasing from $950,000 to $1 million, $40,000 will be contributed to the Warren County Chamber of Business and Industry, insurance costs increased 33 percent and capital spending will hold at $310,000.

Looking holistically, Kafferlin said the 2017 spending package is roughly one million less than the 2018 plan but “in reality, the bulk of that increase is additional pass-throughs and accounting things” that the county hasn’t previously included in the budget.

Regarding capital expenses, Kafferlin said that the commissioners “have more requests and more needs than $310,000 can pay for” but “did meet as a board and discussed (and) tried to rank them by importance.”

He said the elevator at the jail is “near the top” as well as locking mechanisms at the jail, case management software at the sheriff’s office, PC replacements that are part of a five-year plan and several other items, including HVAC work, phone system work, potential emergency radio system replacements and a “bunch of safety and security things.”

Kafferlin then opened up the discussion to the other commissioners.

After thanking Albaugh for her work, Commissioner Cindy Morrison said she had a “few concerns with the budget.”

She said the lack of a tax increase is “certainly good for our citizens” and detailed “two line items that I disapprove of.”

“We fund the WCCBI $40,000. They do not hold open meetings,” she said. “I’m against funding an organization that does not open up their meetings to the public.”

She also reiterated her opposition to the county’s contract with a lobbying firm, Long Nyquist & Associates.

“My concern is that we have legislators and ourselves who can do that work. Also, we don’t have any justification for the work they are doing for us, no list of what they do for (us on) a regular basis.”

She also challenged the agreement with Experience, Inc. approved at a meeting earlier this month, that she said wasn’t “handled in (an) appropriate fashion.”

Commissioner Jeff Eggleston started his comments by “highlighting the work (Warden) Jon Collins has done in the prison. The fact that the prison budget is increasing by .5 percent this year is a huge victory.”

He also said it is a “wonderful thing that we have been able to work collaboratively with the district attorney to secure a full-time county detective.”

On the Experience, Inc. agreement, which will pay the organization $10,645 per year for 10 years to address an issue with PennDOT, Eggleston said that the “Area Agency on Aging needs our help.”

He also highlighted an increase to Paws Along The River that is also “well deserved.”

The commissioners approved the budget unanimously.

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