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Schuylkill County commissioners adopt budget with no tax hike, eye financing reassessment

Dec. 22—POTTSVILLE — The Schuylkill County commissioners on Wednesday adopted the 2023 budget, which does not include a tax increase.

Meanwhile, County Finance Director Paul E. Buber said the county is looking at borrowing $7,455,000 to pay for the upcoming countywide reassessment of property values.

In a related move, Chairman Barron L. "Boots" Hetherington and Commissioner George F. Halcovage Jr. voted to authorize Treasurer Linda L. Yeich to open a bank account with M&T Bank for funds associated with the reassessment. Commissioner Gary J. Hess was absent.

Earlier this month, the commissioners voted to negotiate a contract with Vision Government Solutions, Hudson, Massachusetts, an appraisal company, to perform a countywide property reassessment, the first since 1996.

Any resulting change in property taxes would not go into effect until Jan. 1, 2026.

After the meeting, Buber said that the county is looking at financing about $7.4 million from a bank or issuing bonds to pay for the reassessment.

Buber said that figure was "based off good faith estimates," although he declined to say more.

"We're shopping the market aggressively," he said, to get the best rate available.

Buber said the financing could be in place "in the near future."

Hetherington said after the meeting that Buber has contacted all banks in the county.

The commissioners voted in May to settle a lawsuit filed against the county by The Community Justice Project, a nonprofit based in Reading.

The vote approved a consent decree that requires conducting the reassessment.

In November 2020, the county hired attorney Joan R. Price and the firm Eastburn and Gray PC, Doylestown, for "the purpose of evaluating the county's real estate tax assessment procedure and processes as it relates to pending countywide reassessment litigation."

Price said in May that some property owners' taxes may stay the same, go up or decrease as a result of the reassessment. There are about 94,600 parcels in the county.

A formula will be established to assign values to properties. Owners will be able to challenge the new values before a three-member tax assessment appeal board; those decisions would be appealed to Commonwealth Court.

Tax rate unchanged

Under the $220,317,787 budget adopted Wednesday, the millage rate stays at 15.98 and the per capita tax at $5.

Buber said the final budget will be available in the commissioners office after the meeting and also on the county's website.

"This was a great team effort," Hetherington said of everyone involved.

Halcovage also recognized the contribution of employees and departments in keeping the budget in line. This was the fifth year without a tax hike.

The preliminary budget was presented in November and subsequently was available for public viewing.

The budget had a deficit of $10,200,133. To fill the gap, American Rescue Plan money — up to $5.6 million — will be used to plug the revenue hole, along with $4.6 million from the unassigned fund balance.

The unassigned funds are part of the budget not designated for specific programs or other expenses.

Overall, the county will use $18,685,000 in rescue plan money in the budget.

That includes $8,368,000 for public health related expenses; $5.6 million in revenue replacement; $2,912,100 for broadband; $805,500 for the general fund; and $1 million for infrastructure.

Money from the ARP must be allocated by Dec. 31, 2024, and spent by 2026.

The county has faced increasing costs, including for raises for all employees, except elected officials and per-diem workers; for health insurance; and for prison operations.

Contact the writer: amarchiano@republicanherald.com; 570-628-6023