Commissioners review preliminary 2021 budget

CHAMBERSBURG—Franklin County Commissioners Wednesday took a look at the county’s $162.9 million preliminary budget for 2021, which does not include a tax increase.

A preliminary budget offers a summary of revenue projections and expenses based on department requests, including capital and personnel expansion.

Historically, the preliminary budget is higher than the final budget, according to county officials.

The 2021 preliminary budget for all county departments and operations includes a 10 percent increase in health benefit costs and a required pension contribution of $2.4 million.

Last year’s budget was proposed at $163.6 million, but finalized at $157.9 million.

“Though each department and office puts forth thoughtful initial requests, the board provides guidance which will help to prioritize objectives,” said County Administrator Carrie Gray.

“We’re projected to finish 2020 with $12 million in reserves—90 days worth of expenses,” said Commissioner Dave Keller. “We like to be in that 60- to 90-day window to maintain operations until tax revenues come in in the spring.”

Keller said he proposes the 2021 budget without a tax increase by taking a “selective approach” to spending, with a focus on technology, information services and drug/alcohol abuse prevention.

“I think we can achieve a balanced budget by making use of our reserves,” Keller said.

“This is a big budget with a lot of moving parts. You never like to dip into funds and reserves,” said Commissioner John Flannery, adding ultimately, he agrees with Keller. “I’m confident we will be able to maintain a balanced budget through 2021.”

Commissioner Bob Ziobrowski, however, wasn’t convinced a zero tax increase is prudent in the longterm.

“In the long-run, we’re going to have to raise taxes because in Pa., assessments don’t change. Mathematically, over the next 5 or 10 years, we will have to raise the millage rate or we will die on the vine,” Ziobrowski said, adding if taxes aren’t raised incrementally this year, next year could see an increase.

“I’d be comfortable raising taxes 1 mill this year rather than 2 mills next year,” he said. “I desire a 0 increase as well, but it’s the old, ‘do we fix the roof now or have to replace the building later’ metaphor.”

“I don’t think it’s inevitable,” Flannery said. “We have to be diligent about the way we spend money.”

Gray said her team will take another look at the budget and return to the board with the proposed budget Nov. 25. Final budget adoption is planned for Dec. 16.