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Blair eyes reserve funds

County budget deficit at $2.52M

HOLLIDAYSBURG — If Blair County commissioners want to adopt a no-tax-hike budget for 2021, they may have to rely on reserve funds to cover a projected $2.52 million deficit.

Commissioners, who are slated to convene Friday to introduce a 2021 budget, met Tuesday afternoon to review the latest draft. It shows expenses at $57.38 million, outpacing revenue projected at $54.86 million.

The $2.52 million difference is down from the $4.29 million deficit reported in October when commissioners reviewed the first draft of the 2021 budget. Without additional budget cuts, commissioners will be forced to use reserve funds to avoid an increase in real estate taxes for 2021.

“People this year, especially those in business, are not in a position to handle a real estate tax increase,” Commissioners Chairman Bruce Erb said Tuesday after the budget meeting concluded.

Erb’s fellow commissioners, Laura Burke and Amy Webster, also have no interest in raising real estate taxes for 2021. Webster, during budget sessions, has offered spending cut recommendations which so far, haven’t drawn a supportive second vote.

The county has reserve funds which could be used to balance the proposed 2021 budget without increasing real estate taxes, Finance Director Jennifer Sleppy said Tuesday.

The most recent audit, Sleppy said, showed $5.7 million in the county’s unassigned fund balance as of the end of 2019.

Erb recalled that for the 2020 budget, he and then-commissioners Terry Tomassetti and Ted Beam Jr. settled on using $1.9 million of reserve money to balance the proposed spending plan. But with 2020 nearing an end, Erb said he believes that only a fraction of the $1.9 million will be spent.

If reserve money is used to balance the 2021 budget, it doesn’t have to be spent, but budgeting it could give commissioners “some things to work on” next year, Erb said.

The 2020 budget was also balanced with a 3.7% increase in real estate taxes. That was the third increase in four years, following a 10% increase in 2017, a 25% increase in 2018 and no increase in 2019.

On Tuesday, Sleppy said that by Friday she expects to have updated 2020 budget projections for commissioners to consider for introducing the 2021 budget.

Commissioners also di­­rected Sleppy to allow a $65,000 allocation for the Altoona-Blair County Airport Authority to remain intact.

The authority asked for the money to secure a

$1.3 million federal grant for the second phase of a runway improvement project.

It also asked for money to repair a garage roof and install a new fire alarm system at the airport terminal, but commissioners balked at those requests. Those items should be afforded with airport rental income, the commissioners agreed.

Sleppy also noted that the county’s debt millage may need to be increased slightly to address a proposed construction loan in 2021. She said the loan would permit the county to undertake improvements at the prison, address unfinished renovations in the older side of the courthouse and proposed repairs to the 1999 portion of the courthouse.

Mirror Staff Writer Kay

Stephens is at 814-946-7456.

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