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Time running out for budget slashes

| Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2002

WASHINGTON, Pa. - Washington County officials have less than 20 days to whittle down a nearly $1.5 million budget deficit - and to avoid a 1.2 mill tax increase.

But Washington County Commission Chairman John P. Bevec said Monday he is "hopeful" that the Washington County Redevelopment Authority will come through with a donation - possibly $1 million - to offset the projected shortfall.

The commissioners last increased the tax rate in 1996 - a 2.3-mill hike.

The current tax rate is 17.5 mills. One mill generates about $1.2 million in revenue.

Bevec said the authority board will meet Wednesday, and and is hopeful it will approve a donation.

Bevec last week asked the redevelopment authority to kick in with money generated by sales at the Southpointe development.

The commission chairman said a contribution from the authority could eliminate the need of a tax rate increase.

Budget Director Roger Metcalfe posted a tentative 2003 budget Monday that featured a $1.4 million deficit.

The public, by law, has 20 days prior to peruse the proposed spending plan.

The commissioners are expected to vote on the budget Dec. 19.

Metcalfe said the county is awaiting health care rate proposals that could increase or decrease the deficit.

In formulating the tentative budget, Metcalfe based health care expenditures on a worst case scenario.

Health care rates skyrocketed this year, as the county paid $700,000 more for employee benefits.

The posted budget shows revenues of about $51.2 million. The current budget estimated revenue at $47.2 million.

Expenditures this year are estimated at about $47 million. The figure is expected to rise to $52.6 million next year.

The original projected 2003 deficit was $2.5 million. Metcalfe attributed the deficit to $900,000 county contribution to the pension plan, and to increases in health insurance coverage.

Following a week of budget hearings, the projected deficit was cut to about $1.6 million.

The county has taken alternative routes to cut the projected deficit. On Friday, the commissioners agreed to refinance an $8 million bond issue floated in 1993. RRZ Investment Management Inc. handled the transaction, which will save the county $300,000.

Metcalfe said officials could tap into health center cash reserves.

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