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No tax increase in proposed 2015 Dauphin Co. budget

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HARRISBURG, PA (WPMT) – The Dauphin County Commissioners unanimously approve a $246 preliminary budget for 2015 that holds the line on taxes for an unprecedented ten years in a row.

Additionally, careful financial planning and money saving efforts resulted in the county’s operating budget decreasing by 3.5 percent since 2013.

“By trimming positions and continuing to take a hard look at the bottom line, we have been able to maintain or increase services to our residents without coming to them for money,’’ said commission Chairman Jeff Haste. “Just as families have to live within their means, this board takes that same responsible approach to county government.’’

Under the proposed budget, the commissioners are keeping actual county spending to less than 1 percent growth, from $235.7 million in 2014 to $238 million. Included in the overall spending plan is $8 million in grants and state and federal funding, including $4.6 million for flood damage relief; $1.3 million for 911 emergency dispatch system upgrades; and an additional $1 million from the state for repairing the Duke Street Bridge between South Hanover and Hummelstown.

The county’s millage rate under the proposed budget would remain at 6.876 mills, meaning the owner of a home assessed at $100,000 would continue to pay $687.60 a year.

To view the final budget for 2014, visit www.DauphinCounty.org/budget. The budget is also available for review at the commissioners’ office on the fourth floor of the Dauphin County Administration Building, 2 S. Second St., Harrisburg. Final adoption is expected at the commissioners’ public meeting on December 17.

Commissioner Mike Pries also warned again that increasing cost of handling the county’s emergency 911 dispatching system is one of the greatest concerns facing all counties. The system was originally set up to be supported through fees primarily levied on landlines, but as more people use only mobile devices the funding hasn’t kept pace.

“We need state lawmakers to act in the coming year so 911 dispatching is supported through fees on devices that can use the system,’’ Pries said. “In 2015, we are spending $2.3 million to subsidize the system – without state action, the burden of paying for 911 will increasingly shift to property taxes.’’

Additional cuts resulted in the county anticipating using $5.9 million of the county’s $35 million in reserves instead of the $10 million forecast a week ago. The current estimate is also conservative and county officials said the draw-down will likely be around $3 million.

At Wednesday’s meeting, the board also approved an $8.5 million bond refinancing expected to generate $600,000 in 2015, another example of how the board looks all ways to reduce spending, said Commissioner George P. Hartwick, III.

“Part of strategy to reduce costs and how we’ve been able to hold off on increasing taxes for ten years is due to the county actively pursuing the best interest rates for investments and other public financing opportunities,’’ Hartwick said.

The following are among the steps taken by the commissioners to hold the line on taxes:

• Saving $4 million by eliminating 60 positions since 2012, mostly through attrition. Consolidating adult and juvenile probation in 2013 saved money both in equipment and training costs and also allowed the county to trim 15 positions, most of which were vacant. Since 2009, the annual growth in salary and benefits has been less than 1 percent.

• Close cooperation with the county courts and President Judge Todd A. Hoover resulted in an additional $300,000 in savings for 2015, much of it still a result of efficiencies realized by the probation consolidation.

• The commissioners’ leadership in helping solve the city’s financial problems through the Harrisburg Strong plan removed the county’s obligation to pay almost $7 million in annual debt payments for the incinerator, which was sold to the Lancaster County Solid Waste Management Authority.

• Deciding in 2009 to self-insuring health care – a move that has resulted in almost $10 million in savings through this year. For 2015, the county is looking at a 7 percent increase for health insurance, or a total health insurance expense of $17.2 million.

• Saving $5 million on pension contributions since 2012 by adopting a method that looks at the expected retirement cost for each worker rather than basing contributions on the plan as a whole.

• Contracting with the Nutrition Group, Inc. of York for the Area Agency on Aging’s meal preparation, which is projected to save $297,000 annually. The county distributes 165,000 meals annually to the county’s senior centers and through the Meals on Wheels program. Money saved will be used to support programs for seniors.

• Contracting with the nonprofit South Central Community Action Programs (SCCAP) to provide weatherization services, which is expected to save $78,000 annually. SCCAP provides similar services in Adams, Franklin, Cumberland, York Counties and Harrisburg for area utility companies.

• Emphasizing community-based, family-oriented treatment options for juveniles that have reduced the number of youth in secure placements over the past four years by 60 percent, saving taxpayers $2.4 million. This approach allowed the county in 2010 to close its Schaffner Youth Center, saving an estimated $1.2 million annually.

• Saving an estimated $3.1 million over 10 years by buying 1100 S. Cameron St. in 2013 for $8.3 million rather than continuing to lease the facility for the county’s Drug and Alcohol Services.

• Increasing the energy efficiency of county buildings under a $7 million contract with Constellation Energy, expected to save $10 million over 15 years. In a separate measure, the county last year replaced the prison’s aging water heating system with a solar water heating system, anticipated to save $3,000 a year at the Swatara Township-based facility.

• Selling the county’s Spring Creek Nursing Home in 2006, saving at least $5 million a year while ensuring beds for those in need remain available.