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Butler commissioners propose 2-mill property tax increase

| Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012, 6:32 p.m.

Red ink at the county nursing home and a drop in income for the 911 center caused Butler County commissioners to propose a 2013 budget on Wednesday that would raise property taxes by 2 mills.

The county must provide $1.4 million to cover operating losses and a final bond payment at the Sunnyview Nursing Home along with reduced funding from Medicaid, the commissioners said.

Butler County's contribution to the 911 center is expected to top $1.4 million, up from nearly $1.1 million this year and up sharply from a $600,000 contribution two years ago.

The county is receiving less from a state-approved fee tacked onto the monthly bill of each wireless and landline phone, the commissioners said.

“This is a problem that not only we're facing, but all counties are screaming about the shortfalls,” said Steve Bicehouse, director of Butler County's 911 center. “We're trying to get the Legislature to close a loophole and are trying to provide more funding to us.”

The 2-mill increase would bring the county's property tax millage to 21.688. Property owners also pay a 3.94-mill property tax to pay off county debt.

Under the proposed $196 million budget, the extra 2 mills would cost a homeowner an additional $34 in property taxes for a home with a $100,000 market value.

Officials with several Western Pennsylvania counties said the 911 fee is generating less for their emergency call centers because people are switching from home phones to just cellphones. People with landline phones in larger counties pay $1 each month — people in smaller counties pay $1.50 a month.

Cellphone owners pay $1 per month, according to the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency.

“It's not just dropping; it's going away. It's just that quick,” Wes Hill, director of Beaver County Emergency Services, said of hardline funding.

Allegheny County's income dropped from $6.85 million in 2009 to $5.6 million in 2011, according to a PEMA report issued in March. The $1 cell phone fee is put into a pool and divided among counties, and critics said it's not divided fairly. People who buy prepaid phones pay the $1 fee when they purchase the phone and each time they reload it, meaning they pay fewer fees.

For 2012-13, Bricehouse said, the county sought $1.2 million but was awarded $700,000.

Commissioner James Eckstein, a Democrat, said he would like to see the tax increase cut by at least 1 mill. Republican Commissioners Bill McCarrier and A. Dale Pinkerton said that lowering the tax increase was not likely, and they added that they are locked into union contracts for a couple more years.

Commissioners will take a final vote on the budget on Dec. 27.

Bill Vidonic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5621or bvidonic@tribweb.com.

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