Commissioners approve amended budget

At their regular meeting Dec. 27, the Clarion County Board of Commissioners unanimously adopted an amended 2024 budget.

However, there are a number of unanswered questions remaining in the budget.

Budget advisor Rose Logue said the revised $23,398,000 spending plan was $9,008 lower than the preliminary budget. Logue said the biggest change was in unemployment compensation due to a rate change. Logue said there were additional spending requests. The election department needed an additional $10,000 due to the purchase of mandated special mail-in ballot envelopes and the Register and Recorder asked for additional money for an update to their software.

The budget is supported by a 20.5 mill levy on real estate, 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 changes in revenue in 2024. When the new 9-1-1 telephone surcharge kicks in. The current rate is $1.65 per phone and the new rate is $1.97 per phone, which will bring another $176,000 in revenue for the county according to Commissioner Ed Heasley.

The county will also gain about $100,000 in hotel tax income when the two per cent 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 Corporation.

Commissioner Wayne Brosius said there has been no movement in the county’s effort to recover about $250,000 from the county’s former TPA, Pennsylvania Great Outdoors. That hotel tax money had been deposited with PAGO before the dissolution of the contract with Clarion County in June.

The county is anticipating about $700,000 reimbursement for Children and Youth Services (CYS). The county pays for CYS and is reimbursed by the state. The reimbursement was delayed when the state budget failed to be adopted.

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 did approve raising the hotel room tax rate from three to five percent effective April 1, 2024. The change will sunset in 2027 and would need to be renewed. The county receives about $310,000 from the current tax annually.

The commissioners approved the awarding of a $2,188,550 contract for the courthouse HVAC project to Deets Mechanical, Inc. utilizing the COSTAR program. Heasley voted against the motion stating there were too many unanswered questions about the contract.

Heasley voted against the motion. He asked how the county was going to pay for the project.

Brosius said the county had applied for a $1.9 million federal grant but there has been no confirmation. The county plans on using its own funds for the project and other capital projects.

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

When the renovation 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 is not known at this time.

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

“We won’t be sitting on the fund balance of $5 to $7 million we have now,” said Logue. “We will be investing that money into the courthouse, the jail roof instead of going out and borrowing money. It can always be reviewed.”

Budget Director Tiffany Berry said the county would be receiving reimbursements from the Marcellus Shale Fund, for 9-1-1 salaries, an increase in the 9-1-1 telephone surcharge and the reimbursement from CYS. “That would give us about $198,000 plus the general fund to use for these projects,” she said.

Logue said some funding would be from Domestic Relations. That department will be moving into the courthouse when the renovations have been completed.

An investment in the Clarion River failed to pass. The motion was 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. The county would have been required to pay a $27,000 for the DCNR grant.

The meeting was the last one for Heasley who is retiring after eight years in office. “You will be missed,” said Tharan.