Clarion County budget gets final approval

Clarion County commissioners unanimously adopted an amended 2024 budget Wednesday, but some questions regarding aspects of the spending plan were raised.

Fiscal consultant Rose Logue said the revised $23,398,000 budget is $9,008 lower than the preliminary budget that was given tentative approval in November.

Logue said the biggest change was in unemployment compensation due to a rate change.

She also said there were additional spending requests. The elections office needed an additional $10,000 due to the purchase of mandated special mail-in ballot envelopes and the register and recorder’s office asked for additional money for a software update.

The budget, which doesn’t include a tax increase, is supported by a 20.5 mill levy on real estate, which equals $20.50 on each $1,000 of assessed valuation of taxable property.

There is also a debt service tax of one mill on real estate and a per capita tax of $5.50 per person.

The county used $250,000 from the unrestricted fund balance to balance the budget.

There will be some revenue changes in 2024, including an increase in the new 9-1-1 telephone surcharge. The current rate is $1.65 per phone and the new rate will be $1.97, which will bring in another $176,000 in revenue for the county, commissioner Ed Heasley said.

The county will also gain about $100,000 in hotel tax income when the two percent surcharge on each hotel room rented in the county is raised to five percent in April.

The county retains four percent of the total amount to use for projects. The balance is remitted to the county’s tourist promotion agency, the Clarion County Economic Development Corp.

Commissioner Wayne Brosius said there has been no movement in the county’s effort to recover about $250,000 from the county’s former tourist promotion agency, Pennsylvania Great Outdoors.

That hotel tax money had been deposited with Pennsylvania Great Outdoors before the dissolution of its contract with Clarion County in June.

The county is anticipating about $700,000 reimbursement for Children and Youth Services. The reimbursement was delayed due to the months-long delay in adopting the state budget for 2023-24.

Logue said the county’s real estate tax collection rate rose from 93 percent to 95 percent in the current year.

“Hopefully that trend will continue,” she said.

The commissioners on Wednesday awarded a $2,188,550 contract for the courthouse HVAC project to Deets Mechanical by utilizing the COSTAR program.

Heasley voted against the motion, saying there were too many unanswered questions about the contract. He asked how the county was going to pay for the project, and Brosius said the county had applied for a $1.9 million federal grant but there has been no confirmation.

“Time is of the essence to get this rolling,” Brosius said as he referred to the courthouse project.

When the project begins in April, most of the county offices in the courthouse will be moved to the Clarion County Complex in Shippenville. Brosius said the completion date for the work isn’t known at this time.

Logue said “it would be close” on whether the county completes everything on the $4.8 million capital project list.

Budget director Tiffany Berry said the county would also be receiving reimbursements from the Marcellus Shale fund.

“That would give us about $198,000 plus the general fund to use for these projects,” she said.

In another matter at Wednesday’s meeting, an investment in the Clarion River failed to pass.

A motion was made to approve a contract with Herbert, Rowland and Grubic to provide consulting work for the development of a river access plan.

Brosius voted in favor of the motion, Heasley voted no and Tharan abstained because he has a business interest in a company that would benefit from the development of the access points.

Wednesday’s meeting was the last for Heasley, who is retiring after eight years as a commissioner.

“You will be missed,” said Tharan.