Blair begins budget process

Public meetings set to address salaries, 2019 spending plan

HOLLIDAYSBURG — Blair County commissioners are starting Wednesday to hold several public meetings to develop the proposed 2019 budget that must be adopted by Dec. 31.

In addition, commissioners are holding a special meeting at 6 p.m. Thursday at the courthouse to set salaries for the county’s future elected officials.

That meeting, generally held once every four years, will be convened in Conference Room 2B on the second floor. It is open to the public and generally attracts current elected officials, as well as people interested in running for a county office.

The budget-related meetings, also open to the public, are starting at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday in the employee breakroom located in the courthouse basement. Commissioners intend to meet daily, at the same time and place, through Wednesday, Oct. 3.

After wrapping up the daily sessions, commissioners then are scheduled to meet at 11 a.m. Oct. 15 in Conference Room 2B to discuss the 2019 budget.

That meeting will be followed by three evening meetings also devoted to the budget. They’re set for 7 p.m. Oct. 16 at Northern Blair County Recreation Center, 4080 E. Pleasant Valley Blvd., 7 p.m. Oct. 23 at Spring Cove Middle School, 185 Spring Cove Drive, Roaring Spring, and at 7 p.m. Oct. 30 at Blair County Convention Center, 1 Convention Center Drive.

The budget-related meetings were advertised in Monday’s Altoona Mirror and represent commissioners’ plans that began developing last year while they worked on the 2018 budget.

Commissioners, after settling on a 25 percent increase in real estate taxes — which followed a 10 percent increase the previous year — acknowledged hearing from several residents, including some who offered suggestions for cutting expenses. But by the time the suggestions were rendered, the budget adoption had progressed and moved into the required 20-day public display period before adoption.

In response, Commis­sioner Terry Tomassetti suggested making schedule changes when working on the 2019 budget.

One of the reasons for the 25 percent increase in 2018’s real estate taxes was the commissioners’ desire to contribute $4 million from the general fund toward the county’s underfunded pension plan. For the 2019 budget, the county’s Retirement Board is already on record in support of a $4.2 million allocation, a 5 percent increase.

“The pension is still not anywhere close to where it needs to be, but we have turned the direction from three years ago when it teetered on the brink of bankruptcy,” Commis­sion­ers Chairman Bruce Erb said. “The funded percentage has improved (from 34.2 percent in 2017 to

36.5 percent in 2018) and the plan’s lifespan has been extended by over 20 years.”

A report at the Sept. 13 retirement board meeting, prepared by actuary Alvin Winters of CBIZ Retirement Services, shows the plan’s insolvency year — when it doesn’t have enough money to meet its obligations — has been pushed back from 2026 to 2047.

Winters’ calculation is based on current assets, an ongoing return of 7 percent and the county’s promise to keep contributing $4 million annually.

Commissioners declined to cut the $4 million pension fund contribution, which could have reduced the 2018 real estate tax increase. To date, they’ve offered no regrets for that decision.

“By increasing the contribution to the pension fund and sticking to it, we have allowed the pension fund for county employees to stay solvent for several more years,” Commis­sioner Ted Beam Jr. said in response to Winters’ report.

Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 946-7456.

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