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Blair OKs tax for Fort Roberdeau support

HOLLIDAYSBURG — Blair County commissioners voted 2 to 1 on Friday to resume levying a small real estate tax in 2021 to support the Fort Roberdeau Historic Site, home of the county’s restored Revolutionary War-era fort.

A year ago, commissioners decided against levying recreational millage to support Fort Roberdeau because money from the county’s hotel tax could support the fort.

With hotel tax revenue down because of COVID-19, Commissioners Chairman Bruce Erb suggested restoring the real estate tax levy of 0.12 mills to generate about $93,000 to support Fort Roberdeau.

For taxpayers, that levy equates to $1.20 for a property valued at $100,000 and $1.68 for one valued at $140,000, the average county property assessment, Finance Director Jennifer Sleppy told commissioners who convened Friday to review 2021 budget projections.

“That’s a good investment, in my view,” Erb said.

Commissioner Laura Burke provided the supportive vote for the motion to pass. Commissioner Amy Webster voted no and proposed alternatives.

Webster suggested eliminating the fort’s programs and keeping grounds open under the care of a part-time security/maintenance employee.

Another option, she said, would be for the county to contract with an organization to handle the fort’s programs in exchange for revenue.

She also recommended exploring options, perhaps with the Fort Roberdeau Association, for a role comparable to the Blair County Historical Association, which operates Baker Mansion and Royer Mansion.

Erb, in responding to Webster’s ideas, pointed out that unlike Baker Mansion and Royer Mansion, Fort Roberdeau is a county-owned property.

For the nation’s 200th centennial in 1976, the commissioners then secured a grant to restore the fort and make it into an educational site.

Erb pointed out that the county, with help from the association and others, has invested in additional improvements enhancing the site.

“I don’t see any benefit from closing it down for a couple of years,” Erb said.

Burke said she would be hesitant to make any drastic cuts to Fort Roberdeau. More people have been using the site’s trails in light of COVID-19, Burke said, and efforts are developing to prepare for the nation’s 250th anniversary in 2026.

Webster said her ideas wouldn’t keep people from using the trails.

County Administrator Nicole Hemminger also mentioned that when she met with Glenn Nelson, fort director, to review the budget, he mentioned that the fort has received a large state grant to undertake additional improvements. That creates grant administration and oversight tasks, Hemminger said.

Commissioners also settled Friday on reducing the county’s support for farmland preservation from $120,000 to $100,000, based on decreasing revenue from Marcellus Shale resources. In recent years, the county has depended on Marcellus Shale revenue to improve its support for a program aimed at preserving farms, based on the quality of their soil, for future use as farms.

Sleppy also reported Friday to commissioners that the latest budget adjustments have reduced the projected 2021 budget deficit from $4.29 million to $3.57 million, based on information provided by department heads and based on decisions commissioners made Wednesday. The decrease does not reflect changes reviewed during Friday’s meeting.

Erb asked Friday if the proposed budget included any new positions in the county and Sleppy said no.

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