Lycoming County residents will not see their property taxes go up after Commissioners passed the 2017 budget in a 2-1 vote on Tuesday, December 20th.
The budget was passed in one vote, and the millage rate was passed in another vote. The millage rate will stay at 5.75, which means the typical homeowner will pay about $575 for their property taxes annually.
The millage rate will remain the same even though Lycoming County currently has a deficit of $8.8 million. Because of the deficit, Commissioner Rick Mirabito voted against the budget. Mirabito wanted a tax increase of 0.5 mills. In addition, he wanted the Lycoming County GEO Reentry Center and other programs to be removed from the budget. The GEO Reentry Center helps non-violent offenders reenter society.
Commissioners Jack McKernan and Tony Mussare voted in favor of the budget, with Mussare commenting that he “feel[s] comfortable enough that we will get through the 2017 budget.” McKernan commented that “some changes” will eventually need to be made after he previously pushed for a minor increase in taxes.
According to Fiscal Services deputy director Brandy Clemens, Lycoming County employees will get a 2.5% pay increase. Clemens explained that only employees who did not obtain the highest rate of pay permissible for their position are eligible for the pay increase. Clemens went on to say that employees who are at their highest rate of pay will see a cost of living increase of 1%.
There have been several budget disagreements between Mirabito and Mussare. The GEO Reentry Center and the how the Tourist Promotion Agency uses hotel taxes are the main disagreements. According to Mussare, commissioners may not tell the Tourist Promotion Agency how to use the hotel tax funds. However, Mirabito wants the tax to be put towards things like the Community Arts Center and the White Deer Golf Complex. Mirabito even said that commissioners may want to replace the Tourist Promotion Agency if funds are not used in a certain way.
Another item commissioners voted on was to extend the GEO Reentry Center contract. The three-year extension reduces the total cost to the county by $2,000 each month. The vote was 2-1, with Mirabito voting “no.”
Mirabito disagreed with the contract because the GEO Reentry Center will not have to pay rent while the contract is in place. Moreover, it has had no rent bill since 2014 when the contract was initially signed. According to GEO Reentry Center manager John Hogan, the Center is giving Lycoming County a reduced rate in exchange for the Center not having a rent bill. Hogan also stated that the Center made around $100,000 in office space renovations at the Center at the start of the contract. One thing commissioners agreed on was to possibly bid out the service after the first contract expires in June.