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York County eyes larger tax hike

Greg Gross
505-5433/@ggrossyd

York County residents may be hit with a larger tax increase than previously expected because of unforeseen expense increases and a drop in revenue.

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As part of the proposed 2016 budget approved by commissioners in November, the county real estate tax was to increase 0.55 mill, or 12 percent, from 4.52 mills to 5.07 mills. But now the projected increase is expected to be 0.61 mill, or 13 percent, taking the millage rate to 5.13 mills, said Mark Derr, the county administrator.

The new expected tax hike will mean the owner of a property assessed at $131,345, the average assessed value in the county, would see an $80 increase over their current county tax bill.

Though the commissioners will vote on a final budget Wednesday, they, along with county staff, continue to work the numbers. Commissioner Chris Reilly said he'll make a few recommendations aimed at decreasing expenses and increasing revenue.

"It's fluid, and I don't know how it's going to come out," said Doug Hoke, the vice president commissioner.

Expenses up: One of the unexpected increases is the cost for the York County Coroner's Office to have bodies transported from scenes to the morgue at York Hospital and to Lehigh Valley Hospital in Allentown for autopsies.

White Rose Ambulance is ending its agreement to provide transportation, leaving the coroner's office to find new vendors. That is expected to increase the office's overall budget about $108,000

The cost to operate the domestic relations office is increasing $315,000 in 2016, and there's still a $350,000 cost to cover operations this year.

Revenue from the county's Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) program is expected to decrease $300,000 next year after commissioners approved outsourcing case management services in October. ARD allows first-time nonviolent offenders to avoid conviction by instead completing a set of court-ordered requirements that can include community service and restitution

Since Nebraska-based Vigilnet will start handling defendant supervision in 2016, the county won't see money stemming from fees paid by defendants

"The District Attorney's Office had neither the space nor the bodies to do supervision," said Tom Kearney, the district attorney.

Expected expenses: As part of the proposed budget approved in November, across-the-board expenses are going up next year. Health care costs will increase $4.6 million, and the county will contribute an additional $2.5 million to its pension fund for a full contribution of $12.3 million.

The Children, Youth & Families budget is to increase by $1.8 million to hire more staff to handle an increase in suspected abuse cases. Through the first eight months of this year, the office conducted 3,044 investigations into suspected child abuse and neglect, a roughly 75 percent increase from the 1,735 investigated for the same period of last year.

"That's one thing you really need to fully fund so we can look out for children," Hoke said.

The county's subsidy to the county-run Pleasant Acres Nursing & Rehabilitation Center is expected to increase $1.5 million next year, for a total of $7.7 million.

Difficult: Derr, who joined the county as its main numbers man in the summer, said the budget has been a challenge, partially because of increased expenses and lingering debt that will soon have to be paid off, coupled with the lack of state funding rolling in.

"The state budget impasse hasn't helped at all," he said.

The county had to open a $20 million line of credit in October to keep operations going because of the impasse, and it may be on the hook next year to pay off $21 million in stranded debt stemming from upgrades made to the 911 system several years ago.

"It's probably the most difficult budget I've come across in my eight years in office," Hoke said. "It's been a difficult year."

Commissioners meet 10 a.m. on Wednesdays in the commissioners meeting room on the second floor of the county administration building, 28 E. Market St., in York City.

— Reach Greg Gross at ggross@yorkdispatch.com.