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Blair budget to raise taxes

Plan balances spending through increase, reserves

HOLLIDAYSBURG — Blair County has introduced a $56.78 million budget for 2020 that will be balanced with a 3.79 percent increase in real estate taxes and the use of almost $1.9 million in reserve money.

Commissioners, who made the last of their budget-balancing decisions last week, agreed Tuesday to advertise the proposed spending plan for public review and comment through

Dec. 10 when they’ll vote on adoption.

At $56.78 million, the county’s expenses are $1.46 million more or 2.6 percent higher than 2019’s budgeted expenses. Revenue is estimated at $54.88 million, an increase of 0.4 percent or $218,841.

While county employees are scheduled in 2020 for raises averaging about 3 percent, Commissioner Terry Tomassetti said Tuesday that the increase may also reflect the hiring of additional county employees.

Tomassetti asked for a compilation of the county’s staffing history, going back four or five years, of part-time and full-time employees.

During budget planning sessions, the prison’s budget for salaries showed a projection of $4.41 million in 2020, almost $1 million more than in 2019, because the prison staff now includes 13 more corrections officers. The decision to add personnel was based on a recommendation in a state report evaluating prison safety.

Commissioner Bruce Erb said he thought the number of employees staffing the county’s Children, Youth & Families department has increased, too, because of caseload assignments. While the state covers a portion of that department’s expenses, Erb said he suspects the portion the county covers has been increasing and in turn, affecting the county’s budget.

Human Services Director Katherine Swigart, who was at Tuesday’s meeting, said she would do some research in response to the request.

As presented, the county’s 2020 budget is one that, based on projections, will reduce reserve funds rather than increasing them, a goal county leaders have identified in recent budget years.

Finance Director Jennifer Sleppy’s projections show the county ending 2019 with about $4.85 million in reserve. And based on 2020’s projected revenue, expenses and use of reserve funds, that $4.85 million will likely drop to $2.96 million by the end of 2020.

However, by using $1.9 mil­lion from reserve money to balance the 2020 budget, commissioners were able to set the real estate tax levy at 4.074 mills, an increase of 0.149 mills from the current 3.925 mills.

Based on the 0.149 mills increase, someone with a property valued at $100,000 will pay $407.40 in county real estate taxes, an increase of $14.90 from the current bill of $392.50.

More budget information is available on the county’s website at www.blairco.org.

County leaders also indicated that a paper copy of the budget will be available in the commissioners office and in the county’s law library.

Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 946-7456.

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