The Centre County Board of Commissioners approved on Tuesday a final 2021 budget that will likely see adjustments in the new year amid the changing landscape of the COVID-19 pandemic.
‘I think it will be safe to say that the budget we adopt today will not be the same one that crosses the finish line in 2021,’ Chair Michael Pipe said.
One thing that won’t change about the $81.6 million budget: residents will see no county property tax increase for the 11th consecutive year. The millage rate will remain at unchanged at 7.84 mills.
The final budget had some minor changes for the better from the tentative one introduced on Dec. 8. Revenues are now at $78,636,015, an increase of $35,074 from the proposed budget resulting from adjusted departmental projections, according to director of financial management Tom Martin.
Expenditures decreased by $43,670 following personnel changes and employee selection of insurance options during the open enrollment period. They total $81,619,783, including $80,708,583 in operating budget expenditures and $911,200 in capital reserve funds.
‘I know we’re running a deficit, but it’s tough times right now,’ Commissioner Mark Higgins said. ‘I appreciate what everyone has done to close that budget hole as much as possible.’
Higgins added that two years ago he surveyed all 67 counties in Pennsylvania and found that fewer than a dozen had not had a real estate tax increase or property reassessment for as long as Centre County and suspects that number is even lower now.
‘I think it’s remarkable that we’ve gone more than a decade now without a tax increase in county government and I want to thank everybody’s hard work within the organization for that to be a reality,’ Commissioner Steve Dershem said.
Assessed property value in the county is expected to grow 1.04%, a 1% decrease from 2020, but generally in line with growth rates over the past decade.
‘That growth helps to allow us to not have to have any increase in property taxes, so it’s an important thing,’ Martin said earlier this month.
Federal and state grants and payments in lieu of taxes make up the largest portion of the general and special funds budget at about $34 million, or 43%. Real estate taxes total about 34%, with $23.1 million going to the general fund and $4.1 million to debt service. Departmental earnings for services comprise 17% of the budget at $12.9 million and internal charges for services 6 percent at $4.5 million.
Expenditures decrease overall by 1.7% percent from the 2020 budget.
Employee salaries are funded at their current levels and benefits remain the same with no increase in employee contributions. Total salary and benefits costs for the county are about $36.6 million, a 2.5% decrease from the 2020 budget.
The budget includes continued funding from PEMA to complete the Emergency Communications interconnectivity project, Martin said.
Human Services at $29.65 million and Corrections at $13.73 million comprise more than half of general funds expenditures, with administration and judicial making up about 13 percent each.
The budget maintains general fund reserves of $7.5 million, or 10.87%.
Capital fund projects include completion of courthouse renovations, facility upgrades and repairs, camera upgrades for county buildings, and top coat for the Willowbank Building parking lot.
Pipe said that the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic are posing challenges for governments at all levels.
‘In terms of the landscape we live in right now in municipal government, county government, even state and federal government, it is a very difficult fiscal reality that we’re facing and there’s a tremendous amount of uncertainty,’ Pipe said.
That uncertainty means the county may see a need to make additional expenditures or possibly account for more revenue. Pipe expressed hope for ‘a return to a new normal,’ as vaccines become more widely available and said there is the possibility of additional federal relief funds targeted to local or state governments in the new year.
‘So depending on what that looks like we will most likely be taking action to change our budget,’ Pipe said.