The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

Local News

October 7, 2009

Job cuts, tax hike could be in future

Beader: Budget picture uncertain

MERCER COUNTY — Mercer County Commissioners are gearing up for next year’s budget and they’re already talking about job cuts and taxes.

In the midst of a nasty budget year, the county eliminated 15 jobs by not refilling positions as people have quit or retired, Commissioner Brian Beader said Wednesday. Depending on how the 2010 budget shakes out, more positions might need to go, he said.

The county’s policy has been to cut a job when someone leaves rather than to lay off a worker. Even so, commissioners instituted a mass one-week layoff at the courthouse in August to save money.

Beader also said the commissioners will have to “think hard” about how to maintain a general fund balance — the rainy day money the county needs on tap for when things don’t go according to plan.

In the past, commissioners have said that could take another tax increase next year. Commissioners raised taxes 2 mills this year mostly to finally end the Woodland Place debt issue.

Asked Wednesday if a tax hike is in the cards, Beader said commissioners need to see the fiscal administrator’s numbers before anything is known.

Fiscal chief John Logan said the county’s budget fate is dependent on the state, which has already gone four months without a budget. A large chunk of the county’s budget is made up of pass-through money from the state for mandated programs.

The delay in Harrisburg could put the county in a bit of a scramble to work out numbers for a budget that commissioners have to have in place by the end of December.

The county has covered many bills typically paid by the state as they wait on money to pour out of the state capital. But when the county spends its reserves, it loses all the potential interest on that money. The state doesn’t make up for that loss.

If the county has to raise taxes this year, Beader laid blame on state officials who cut funding to counties to save their budget from fiscal armageddon without levying new taxes. He said that forces counties to raise taxes to keep up with services the state requires counties to perform, Beader said.

That’s not holding the line on taxes, Beader said, it’s a tax shift.

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