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Commissioner: 2005 budget likely to include tax increase

| Wednesday, May 9, 2012, 12:25 p.m.

Westmoreland County Commissioner Tom Ceraso said when the county's 2005 budget is introduced later this week, it will likely include a property tax increase.

"We could probably get away with one more year like this by draining everything down to zero, but I don't think that would be prudent," he said.

The exact amount of the increase to be proposed Thursday remains in doubt, because at least two commissioners must agree on the amount.

The county initiated several cost-cutting measures last January -- including layoffs -- in an effort to balance the $288 million 2004 budget.

The county projected a $9 million spending gap through 2004 and balanced its $103 million general fund budget only through the use of a $14 million reserve account.

While the forecast for the ending balance of the reserve fund is still to be determined, the county should have less than $9 million to cover any overspending next year.

A 1-mill increase would generate $3.2 million, according to fiscal director Jody Keating. Each mill would add $19 to the average taxpayer's bill of $329 annually.

Commissioner Tom Balya, chairman of the board of commissioners, was more circumspect than Ceraso.

"But I will say this. We can't operate with no cash on hand, because we're self-insured," he said, referring to the county's health insurance.

While the county is insured against catastrophic claims above several million dollars, the rest must be paid out of pocket, meaning the money has to be available so that county workers' health care coverage isn't cut off.

Commissioner Phil Light, who was appointed in October to fill the unexpired term of the late commissioner Terry Marolt, said he's not prepared to commit to a tax increase, but he's not dead set against it either.

"I don't foresee some sort of creative financing agreement," he said.

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