Blair commissioners adopt budget

HOLLIDAYSBURG – Blair County commissioners on Tuesday adopted a 2014 budget that keeps the general fund real estate millage at the current levy.

Commissioners also took steps to begin four years of annual pension contributions with proceeds from the sale of Valley View Home.

“We know where we’re at on that,” Commissioners Chairman Terry Tomassetti said before he and fellow commissioners Diane Meling and Ted Beam Jr. voted in favor of adopting the proposed $44.5 million budget that was introduced in November and has been available for public review.

The budget was also reviewed in court recently, where Solicitor Nathan Karn presented and reviewed a petition before Senior Judge Charles Brown of Centre County. Because the county’s general fund millage rate of 27.495 mills in 2014, the same as levied in 2013, exceeds 25 mills, the state requires the county to seek court review before enacting the levy.

The state allows the county to enact a general fund levy as high as 30 mills, an amount that commissioners acknowledge will probably force them into reassessment if operating expenses continue increasing.

Finance Director Robert Kuntz offered no additional comments to commissioners on the budget adoption but encouraged commissioners to take action designating $8 million from the sale of Valley View Home to support the county’s underfunded pension plan.

Kuntz has recommended, for investment reasons, that commissioners designate $2 million annually in 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017.

If commissioners decide to change their mind during those years of if new commissioners take office and want to spend the proceeds differently, the vote taken Tuesday will need to be reconsidered.

“This is a public notice type of protection,” Tomassetti said. “Any change [in the expenditure of the designated $8 million] will be subject to public discussion and a public vote.”

Tomassetti also suggested, and Meling and Beam agreed, to designate the annual $2 million contributions to be made quarterly, with $500,000 transferred by the 15th of every January, April, July and October. The money is to be forwarded to the pension fund’s checking account, then distributed to the pension plan’s investment advisers, as directed by the county’s retirement board.

Commissioners also voted Tuesday to set aside $1.88 million of Valley View Home proceeds to cover the anticipated expense of post-retirement healthcare benefits, applicable to Valley View employees. Commissioners also designated $353,111 from the Valley View Home proceeds to cover ongoing workers’ compensation claims that also involved Valley View employees. The county sold the home, effective June 1, when most of the home’s employees went to work for the new operator, Reliant Senior Care of Philadelphia.