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Westmoreland County budget to avoid tax increase

Rich Cholodofsky
| Monday, Dec. 18, 2017, 5:42 p.m.
Westmoreland County Courthouse
Barry Reeger | Trib Total Media
Westmoreland County Courthouse

Deficit spending to operate Westmoreland County government will continue into 2018, But despite a dwindling surplus and flat revenues, officials said the financial outlook remains solid.

Commissioners on Monday approved a $336.2 million budget that for the 13th straight year will not raise taxes. The budget will feature spending that is outpaced by revenues and balanced through the use of a surplus account.

“I see no tax increases, and I don't see any increases for this year or next year,” Commissioner Gina Cerilli said.

County property taxes, which remain at 20.99 mills, have not increased since 2005.

But the budget, as it has been for more than a decade, is in deficit. The $139 million general fund to pay for discretionary spending is about $6.5 million in the red.

Commissioners expect to end 2017 with a $16.6 million surplus. That surplus is projected to fall below $10 million heading into 2019.

“Everything is paid for if we stay within the budget as we tend to do,” Commissioner Charles Anderson said. “Our fiduciary responsibility has been good.”

Human services, at more than $115.9 million, account for more than one-third of the overall budget. Public safety, which includes the county's 911 system and jail, is budgeted at $48.2 million. Repayment of loans will cost taxpayers $21.6 million in 2018.

Commissioners expect to collect about $82 million next year in property taxes. The remainder of county funds will come from state and federal grants.

Over the last month, commissioners cut about $1.1 million from a preliminary budget proposed, including more than $827,000 in capital improvements.

The budget includes about $360,000 in additional money through state grants earmarked for social service programs. Commissioners said that $26,000 of that money will be allocated this year in grants to agencies that in the past have received some county funding. Budget shortfalls prompted commissioners last year to cut $110,000 that previously had been allocated to agencies such as the Westmoreland Food Bank, United Way and the Blackburn Center.

Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-830-6293 or rcholodofsky@tribweb.com.

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