No tax increase in Blair budget

Officials will not up real estate fees in recent county draft

HOLLIDAYSBURG — The latest draft of Blair County’s proposed 2022 budget shows total real estate taxes will not increase.

Commissioners are expected to approve the plan.

After a budget workshop meeting Wednesday, commissioners Bruce Erb, Laura Burke and Amy Webster acknowledged the likelihood of a no-tax-hike budget for 2022.

Webster, who voted against the 2021 budget because of a small tax increase, said she will vote in favor of the 2022 budget.

“I’m thrilled that we’re not going to have a tax increase in next year’s budget,” Webster said.

During Wednesday’s budget workshop meeting, commissioners agreed with a plan to designate about $1.8 million in American Rescue Funds toward the 2022 budget and specific capital expenses, as allowed by current federal guidelines.

That reduced a $2.05 million projected deficit identified at the beginning of Wednesday’s meeting — based on expenses of $58.2 million and revenue of $56.14 million — to about $250,000.

Further refinements might increase that deficit to about $400,000, Finance Director Jennifer Sleppy estimated after the meeting. But that remains an amount, Sleppy said, that can be covered by reserve funds while still adopting a close-to-balanced budget.

If commissioners follow through with a vote in favor of a no-tax-hike budget, then property owners, in 2022, will pay the same amount in county property taxes as paid in 2021. The total tax levy adds up to 4.097 mills. For someone with a $100,000 property, that translates into a county real estate tax bill of $409.70. For someone with a $200,000 property, that translates into a county real estate tax bill of $819.40.

Also on Wednesday, commissioners revisited a proposed plan to provide one-time payments to qualifying non-union employees in 2022 instead of an across-the-board cost-of-living raise.

At a budget meeting in November, Erb and Webster agreed with that plan for 2022, since the county made non-union pay adjustments in July based on its salary study and follow-up actions.

For non-union employees whose pay was adjusted in July by 2 percent or less, the county’s 2022 budget includes money for a one-time payment of up to 2 percent.

For those employees whose pay was adjusted in July by more than 2 percent, the draft 2022 budget has no additional compensation.

Burke, who disagreed with the plan in November, asked commissioners on Wednesday to consider the option of granting a 2 percent cost-of-living raise for all non-union employees in July, the anniversary of the raises linked to the salary study.

Erb said he didn’t want to do that because it will disturb the pay equities established through the salary study efforts.

Burke countered that providing one-time payments to some employees and not to others creates inequities.

Webster said she didn’t see it that way because the proposed one-time payments won’t increase the employees’ base salaries.

“If we do a COLA raise (for all non-union employees), that adds to the base … and eventually would put everyone out of whack again,” Webster said.

Burke pointed out that unionized employees, based on negotiated contracts, are likely to get raises of 2 percent or more.

“I find it incredibly disheartening that my colleagues on the board of commissioners plan to deny our non-union employees a cost-of-living increase in a year when we know that costs of all kinds are increasing,” Burke said after the meeting.

Sleppy told commissioners that if the county were to award a 2 percent cost-of-living raise in July, as Burke suggested, that would cost $56,670.

The one-time payment of up to 2 percent, for select non-union employees is estimated to cost $30,494.

“Last year, we provided a cost-of-living increase of 2 percent for all non-union employees, despite passing a budget with a $2.5 million deficit,” Burke said. “Now, even though our budget is balanced, they won’t provide a cost-of-living increase and use the long overdue implementation of the salary study as an excuse.”

Burke said her fellow commissioners would do well to remember that the salary study brought the non-union employees “up to what they should have been making” and nothing more.

“Our employees do not just deserve a cost-of-living increase,” she said. “They flat out need one.”

Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 814-946-7456.


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