Blair County Commissioners told members of the business community Thursday that the time for reassessment has come.
"Six years ago, when Terry [Tomassetti] and I were elected, voters made it clear they were opposed to it. We embraced their idea and avoided that. We have tried to meet expenses, but it gets to the point where you can no longer avoid the inevitable," Commissioner Diane Meling said at the Blair County Chamber of Commerce Breakfast Club. "We cannot operate at a deficit for very long. It is a very prudent thing at this time. It is time to move forward with reassessment."
Commissioner Ted Beam said he understands that most people have been against reassessment; the last county reassessment was done in 1958.
"Reassessment: Is it needed? Now the answer is yes. We recognize the fact there are not enough funds from 1958 revenues to provide 2014 services. For us to continue in an efficient mode, it is time to look at this very seriously," Beam said. "We have been waiting until the last minute, but maybe we are at the last minute. We now need to look at prioritizing reassessment."
Tomassetti agreed that the time has come.
"Whether it is the last minute or not, the time is now. It takes about 2years. If we want to have the plan in place by 2017, we need to start this year," Tomassetti said. "By the time 2016-17 comes, if we haven't done anything, you will see losses in many of the public safety offices. We will lose some of the necessary staff we have in public safety. We are at the end of our time on this issue."
Meling said the commissioners are in preliminary discussions with Evaluator Services and Technology, which has undertaken reassessment projects in Lebanon and Indiana counties.
"We want to visit those counties and see how it is going," said Meling, who indicated Indiana County hired a consultant to oversee EST.
The commissioners also touched on other topics during their annual appearance at the Breakfast Club.
Tomassetti said the 2013 sale of the Valley View Home to Reliant Senior Care for $16.5 million was good for the county.
"The sale of Valley View reduced the size of the county labor force by one-third with no loss of service. It made us more efficient. We have done a significant tightening of our belts with that sale," Tomassetti said. "It was a financial problem for the county. For us to succeed, we had to compete against the private sector; to do all of this made sense."
The chamber's Legislative Action Committee is looking to sponsor a Municipal Cooperation and Shares Services Forum involving municipalities from throughout the county.
Meling, who previously served as a township supervisor and borough manager, is interested.
"What I have seen is the services the county provides are not conducive for sharing with municipalities such as running the courts and prison," Meling said. "I would be happy to serve on that committee and share my thoughts about cooperation. One thing we learned was that if the county was not mandated to do it, we should not do it. We have lived by that."
Beam said it may be difficult for the county to cooperate with its municipalities.
"We would have to have cooperation of the municipalities to be involved in this effort. Until they would work with the county, it would be a very difficult thing to do. It would be good thing but would require cooperation from all municipalities," Beam said.
Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 946-7467.