CLARION – “It can’t get much better.” That’s how Clarion County director of accounting Rose Logue described the county’s 2018 tentative budget, which does not project a tax increase for residents in the coming year.

The preliminary spending plan was unanimously approved by Clarion County Commissioners Ted Tharan, Wayne Brosius and Ed Heasley at their regular meeting on Tuesday.

“I want to thank Rose and all the department heads,” Heasley said. “They spent a lot of time putting this together.”

The tentative 2018 budget predicts revenues and expenses to balance out at $17,057,464 based on the same property tax rate as last year — 22 mills with 20.5 mills designated for the general fund and 1.5 mills for debt service — with no increase in real estate taxes.

“It’s a balanced budget, [and] the most important thing is that there is no tax increase,” Logue said following the meeting on Tuesday. “It can’t get much better.”

She explained that the total projected budget is approximately $2.5 million more than the 2017 budget of $14,526,914, a trend Logue attributed to the possibility of two pass-through grant opportunities, as well as an increase in the amount expected from tax revenue in the new year.

“It’s higher this year primarily because we’re running two pass-through grants from the Redevelopment Assistance Capital Project pass-through,” Logue said, noting that the grants include a $1.75 million grant for the YMCA construction project and approximately $1 million for the Clarion Hospital Emergency Room expansion project.

“The money comes in and goes out,” she continued, adding, however, that the funding still has to be accounted for in the county’s budget.

In addition, Logue said the county is expecting to beef up the 2018 budget with $8,558,485 in tax revenues — at a projected collection rate of 93 percent — which is an increase of more than $118,000 from 2017. With taxes accounting for more than 50 percent of the county’s revenue, Logue attributed the growth to higher county assessed property values, which have been steadily increasing for the last several years.

Other anticipated county revenue sources for next year include $3,361,211 in department revenue, $25,000 in licenses and other permits, $65,000 in payments in lieu of taxes and $429,080 in other revenue.

Logue added that the county also negotiated a better electricity rate through the COSTARS program, which helped to drive down electric costs nearly 20 percent.

“That saves us a lot of money,” Logue said.

When it comes to expenses, the budget anticipates spending $1,337,314 in miscellaneous general government expenses, $2,809,400 in economic development and $2,526,432 for the Clarion County Jail, $856,814 in Human Services, $676,207 for Adult Probation, $639,367 in District Attorney costs and more.

While the county anticipates spending $709,586 for 911 Communications, Logue pointed out that $684,586 is reimbursed by the 911 fund account for employees’ salaries and benefits, leaving the county to pay a net of $25,000 of the 911 expenses through a county match.

According to Logue, the county has also set aside money in the budget for employee pay raises, with definitive figures pending final contract negotiations.

“There’s money in the contingency reserve to cover whatever happens,” she said.

New for 2018, Logue said the budget also includes a three-year capital improvement plan to help county officials determine when and what improvements need to be made.

“The plan will be reviewed by the commissioners each year to determine which projects we can move forward with each year,” Logue explained, adding that funding for the projects would come from capital reserve funding.

All in all, Logue said she was pleased with the budget outlook for 2018.

“Our main objective is trying not to raise taxes while still providing the necessary services to county residents and being fair to our employees in compensation and benefits.”

“The revenue is realistic for what we think we can obtain, and expenses are under control,” added Heasley.

The Clarion County 2018 Tentative Budget is available for public review on the county website. Final budget approval is expected to take place on Tuesday, Dec. 12.

Other Business

• Resolution No. 12 was approved formally announcing the county’s intention and resolve to eliminate the yearly depreciation on residential trailers and mobile homes.

• The commissioners also approved the Hazardous Material Response Fund grant agreement for the performance period July 1 through June 30, 2018.

• The following individuals were appointed to the Hotel Tax Committee for a three-year term beginning Nov. 1: Pamela Zahoran and Sue Gearing, members at large; and Shannon Barrios, Economic Development.

• Charles Kahle of Knox was appointed to serve a three-year term on the Airport Zoning Board beginning Nov. 1.

• Andrew Turner was appointed and Pam Moore was reappointed to serve a four-year term on the Conservation District Board from Jan. 1, 2018 through Dec. 31, 2021. Angela Burner and Hugh Henry were also appointed to the Planning Commission Board for the same time period.

• The commissioners approved letters of support for the following: Pennsylvania American Water’s franchise territory application to the Public Utility Commission to capture 1,800 feet of existing sewer main in Monroe Township; USA Choice’s application for an education broadband services license for Clarion County; and PA Commission on Crime and Delinquency by the Armstrong-Indiana-Clarion Drug and Alcohol Commission’s application for the Centralized Coordinating Entity for the county to distribute naloxone to first responders.

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