During their weekly meeting Tuesday, the Huntingdon County Commissioners discussed the outcome of a Nov. 27 public meeting during which they voted to advertise the proposed 2020 budget.
The fiscal plan calls for a tax hike of 3.75 mills.
According to the budget, which is available for public view at www.huntingdoncounty.net, the 2019 fiscal plan was at a total levy of $588,602,461 or 16.25 mills, whereas the 2020 proposed budget is at a total levy of 590,934,544 or 20 mills.
Commissioner Scott Walls mentioned a few factors that are going into the proposed tax increase.
“Regrettably the proposed 2020 budget does include a tax increase,” he said. “The number of criminal cases going through the courts and resulting time in our jail system is a major contributor to budget overruns. We are also being forced by Gov. (Tom) Wolf to purchase new voting equipment and have major computer system upgrades for the treasurer, tax claims and tax assessment offices that can no longer be ignored.
"“State reimbursements are going down, while the spending mandates they throw on us continue to rise,” Walls added. “Add to that the fact that the state again fails to give the county any funding options other than the property tax to fund county government. Taxes should be based on consumption and ability to pay, not on property.”
Board of commissioners’ chair Mark Sather referenced some of those same items in the Nov. 27 meeting minutes provided to The Daily News.
“The primary reason or the increase includes the exceptional number of inmates incarcerated in 2019, the purchase of new elections equipment mandated by the state Department of State, upgrades to the new computer systems in the treasurer, tax claims and tax assessment offices, increases in insurance rates, payments into the retirement system, debt service reduction for the 2014 and 2015 unfunded debt and the potential new contingency fund for unexpected emergency expenses,” said Sather in the Nov. 27 minutes.
Also in the Nov. 27 minutes, commissioner Jeff Thomas added many of these costs are out of the control of the commissioners.
“We cannot control the inmate population and they are being required to purchase new election equipment,” he said. “I don’t want to raise taxes, but I feel it’s the most fiscally responsible thing to do."
The hearing for the 2020 proposed county budget will be held at 10 a.m. Wednesday, Dec. 11.
In other business, Huntingdon Borough resident Jim Cassatt said he was reviewing the advertised audit for 2018 and asked how the county lost $10 million in fixed assets, going from $17 million to $7 million in fixed assets in comparison to the 2017 audit.
“That should impact insurance payments,” said Cassatt.
According to Sather, Cassatt may have been looking at the incorrect 2017 audit, as an incorrect audit was published last year, and county auditors had to publish a corrected audit, so the comparisons may not be correct.
In other business, the commissioners approved four staff members from Huntingdon County Children and Youth Services and two solicitors to attend the January Pennsylvania Children and Youth Administrators meeting at Tofrees Resort in State College Jan. 15-17.
CYS administrator Shannon Walborn explained that if two administrators attend the full conference, as opposed to just part of it, they get a $150 discount for the next conference. Conferences are usually held four times a year. The cost of the conference is $750 for all to attend.
Additionally, Veterans Affairs director Brian Bassett was approved to attend the Western District Meeting of the state County Directors of Veterans Affairs at the Double Tree in Washington, D.C., Feb. 21, 2020, at just the cost of fuel. The conference is free.