MERCER – The Mercer County commissioners adopted a balanced 2021 budget that keeps property taxes at 23.65 mills at their meeting Thursday.

“It’s important to recognize the work of this board for holding the tax rate,” said John Logan, the county’s fiscal administrator. “That’s a very difficult thing to continue to do with the strain of COVID.”

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic’s economic impact, county officials avoided a tax increase for a fourth consecutive year. In 2017 and 2018, the county decreased property taxes.

“We understand that COVID has hit businesses and citizens in the county,” Commissioner Matt McConnell said. “It would behoove us to continue that (avoiding tax increases). We need to look at everything we’re cutting out that’s not servicing the citizens of Mercer County.”

The general fund budget calls for revenues and expenditures of $50,513,916. Total expenditures, including funding from state and federal sources is $76,437,914.

Commissioners said the county was able pass a 2021 budget without raising taxes in part because of a $9.8 million grant from the federal government as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Recovery and Economic Security Act adopted in March.

The grant paid COVID-19-related costs — such as buying personal protective equipment, salaries and overtime for employees working to keep county buildings safe from the pandemic.

Commissioners overspent the grant, by disbursing more than $13.8 million for COVID-19 related expenses, with hopes that the state will reallocate other counties’ unspent funds to Mercer County.

At Thursday’s meeting, commissioners approved spending $169,500 on more grants to small businesses in the county. That makes the total number 167 grants in tourism, non-profit and for-profit businesses at $1,162,500.

The total spent on grants to municipalities and schools was $5,872,415, providing broadband services to unserved or underserved areas in Northern Mercer County was $1,173,265 and county expenses came to $5,583,197. The total amount approved was $13,791,377.

County officials said cutbacks are possible in both state and federal funding of existing programs.

“We also have concerns for what response might be necessary to support our citizens, our social service agencies and our employers if the COVID-19 virus spreads heavily into our county,” Logan said. “We want to have healthy people in a healthy economy.”

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