911 radio system driving 14% hike in Armstrong property taxes

| Friday, Nov. 16, 2012, 12:37 a.m.

KITTANNING — Armstrong County property owners are facing a 14 percent increase in the real estate tax rate, and officials say it's mainly the new emergency radio system for its 911 dispatching center that's pushing up the bill.

Armstrong County Commissioners on Thursday detailed a $19.1 million budget proposal for 2013 that increases millage on real estate for debt services by 1.75 mills, from 3 mills to 4.75 mills.

The increase is in response to a $15 million bond issue in 2010 approved by the commissioners to fund the radio project.

“That's for the additional allocations we had to make into 911 because of a mandated radio project,” said Commissioner Rich Fink. “Because of cuts from PEMA (Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency) and FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency), we had to make up that difference. The debt side (mills budgeted for debt service) is pretty much locked in. We'll try to find cuts in the general (purposes) side of the budget. The board is committed to making cuts and being as conservative as possible.”

The tentative budget increases the millage rate on real estate for general purposes by 0.45 mills, from 12.5 mills to 12.95 mills.

County officials are projecting a balanced budget with a combined property tax of 17.7 mills — up 2.2 mills from 15.5 mills.

This year's general fund budget was just under $19 million.

A mill of taxes generates about $948,000 in revenue for the county.

For a property owner with an $80,000 home, with an assessed value of $40,000, the new tax bill would increase by about $88 from $620 to $708 if the tax increase is put into the final budget.

If the fiscal plan is adopted in December, it would be the first tax increase for the county since 2006.

The county's financial advisor, Carly Cowan, said assessed property values rising by $3.5 million resulting in additional real estate tax revenue, and Marcellus Shale impact fee revenue in the amount of $515,000, had a positive affect on the budget.

Cowan added that the allocation for 911 increased the county's expense side of the budget. Other expenses negatively affecting the budget included proposed wage adjustments, increases in the cost of employee health care coverage and loss of revenues at the jail for housing out-of-county inmates.

“We have a lot of ground to make up,” said Commissioner Bob Bower. “We think we can still do something on the general side of the budget.”

Commissioner Chairman Dave Battaglia said the board was going to explore other sources of revenue. He mentioned the Marcellus shale industry as a possible source.

The commissioners said they are considering using some county properties in relation to Marcellus shale production, but declined to provide specifics.

The preliminary budget is available for public review and is expected to be given final approval at the commissioners' public meeting at 1:30 p.m. on Dec. 20 in the courthouse annex building's conference room on the second floor. The commissioners next meet on Dec. 6.

Mitch Fryer is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-543-1303 or mfryer@tribweb.com.

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