Clarion commissioners don’t expect tax hike

It’s early in the budget process, but Clarion County commissioners say they don’t see a need for a tax increase in 2022.

“No one wants to see a tax increase,” commissioner Ed Heasley said at the panel’s meeting Tuesday. “Of course we have no idea what inflation might do. The county’s expenses are going up just like everywhere else.”

“The budget is a work in progress,” commissioner Ted Tharan said.

A preliminary budget has to be presented for public display 30 days before the spending plan is adopted. The budget must be adopted by the end of the year.

The county’s last real estate tax increase was in 2012.

County administrator Jillian Fisher said Tuesday that at this time, the requests from various row officers and department heads for items in the 2022 budget are more than $1.2 million more than projected revenues.

“They let us know their wish list and then we negotiate with them to determine what the needs are versus the wants,” said Fisher.

The county has about $8 million in reserves, and that doesn’t include another $9 million in earmarked funds. Those funds include funds that may only be used for specific purposes such as liquid fuels money.

Tharan said the reserve is used for one-time expenses.

“Say they need a large printer in the G.I.S. department, then that would be a one-time expense,” he said.

Budget director Rose Logue said the county still has to pay its bills over the winter before the tax revenues begin to arrive next fall.

Logue said those expenses total about $1.2 million a month including the county jail and the 9-1-1 center that operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Tharan said the county doesn’t usually use the budget reserve because “once it is gone, you can’t replace it.”

Tharan said the reserve has been increased continually in the past few years.

“I think that indicates pretty good financial management,” he said.

The county is in the process of making an adjustment to the way it handles payroll. Fisher said that, starting with this payroll period, about half the county’s 400 employees will receive a check for one week while others receive a check for two weeks.

“We are not cheating anyone out of any money,” said Commissioner Wayne Brosius. “We don’t withhold the first week of pay like other places do.”

Fisher said that eligible employees will be paid hazardous duty pay under the “parameters of the stipend” under the American Rescue Plan. The pay is related to the COVID pandemic.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Brosius. “This will lessen the blow to the employees.”

Tharan said no elected officials will receive any hazardous duty stipend.

In another matter, the commissioners approved a $4,000 grant for the Donald Lobaugh Veterans Museum in Rimersburg for the replacement of the building’s heating system.

The funds will be taken from the Marcellus Shale legacy fund, and the county has about $151,000 in that account.

There will be an auction of the remaining county surplus items in November at the former Hollobaugh Beer Distributor building on Route 322, west of Clarion. The exact date and time haven’t been announced.