County bud­get in­cludes tax hike

The county prop­erty taxes will in­crease for first time in five years

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - FRONT PAGE - By Michael P. Rel­la­han mrel­la­han@21st-cen­tu­ry­ @Ch­escoCourtNews on Twit­ter

The Chester County com­mis­sion­ers on Thurs­day voted unan­i­mously to adopt a 2017 bud­get that will see county prop­erty taxes in­crease slightly for the first time in five years.

Ac­cord­ing to fig­ures re­leased ear­lier this year by county Chief Op­er­at­ing Of­fi­cer Mark Rup­sis, the owner of a home val­ued at $166,630 — the me­dian as­sessed value in the county — would pay a pro­jected tax bill of $728, an in­crease in county prop­erty taxes of $34.33.

Rup­sis said it worked out to an in­crease from 4.163 mills in 2016 to 4.369 mills in 2017, an in­crease of about two-tenths of a mill, or 4.9 per­cent.

A mill is $1 for ev­ery $1,000 of a prop­erty’s as­sessed value.

The county re­mains one of the wealth­i­est and most eco­nom­i­cally sta­ble in the state, if not on the East Coast. Its per capita in­come of $84,741 is the high­est in the Delaware Val­ley and state, and its me­dian house­hold and me­dian fam­ily in­comes are both ranked among the state’s high­est, ac­cord­ing to U.S. Cen­sus fig­ures. The monthly un­em­ploy­ment rate of 4.1 per­cent is also the low­est in the re­gion, as is the prop­erty tax rate.

“Led by our strate­gic pri­or­i­ties, in­clud­ing pub­lic safety and bal­anced growth, Chester County con­tin­ues to in­vest in projects, pro­grams and ser­vices that will ben­e­fit our res­i­dents now and into the fu­ture,” said com­mis­sion­ers’ Chair­man Ter­ence Far­rell in a news re­lease that was is­sued fol­low­ing the vote.

Vice Chair­woman Kathi Coz­zone added that her col­leagues “re­main com­mit­ted to our pri­or­ity for cit­i­zen safety, which means fur­ther in­vest­ment in projects such as the voice ra­dio sys­tem for emer­gency re­spon­ders, the con­struc­tion of a fir­ing range at our pub­lic safety train­ing cam­pus and an up­grade in our com­puter aided dis­patch equip­ment.” She said county depart­ment heads de­served praise for re­duc­ing the costs of county

gov­ern­ment, “which they’ve man­aged to do while pre­serv­ing the qual­ity ser­vices that our res­i­dents rely on.”

In ad­di­tion, Com­mis­sioner Michelle Kich­line also noted the im­por­tance placed on main­tain­ing a bal­ance of growth and preser­va­tion, which will con­tinue with the de­vel­op­ment in 2017 of Land­scapes3 and fur­ther in­vest­ment in ur­ban cen­ters and open space.

“Main­tain­ing a ‘qual­ity of place’ here in Chester County is so im­por­tant to at­tract and keep the right busi­nesses and peo­ple with the right work­force skills that will al­low the county to con­tinue to thrive. That takes in­vest­ment,” said Kich­line, one of the board’s two Repub­li­can mem­bers. “Even with this in­crease, Chester County still has one of the low­est tax rates in south­east­ern Penn­syl­va­nia.”

The bud­get shows a to­tal of $548 mil­lion in op­er­at­ing and cap­i­tal ex­penses, up from $545 mil­lion in 2016. Those ex­penses in­clude the “fund­ing chal­lenges” cited by Rup­sis as fac­tors that gave rise to the tax in­crease, in­clud­ing costs as­so­ci­ated with pub­lic safety, health care ben­e­fits, county build­ing im­prove­ments, the ef­fort to up­date the Land­scapes plan­ning doc­u­ment in 2017, and main­tain­ing the county’s cash fund bal­ances.

The county’s net cost of health care ben­e­fits for its em­ploy­ees will in­crease from $25.2 mil­lion to $26.7 mil­lion, he said, not­ing that such an in­crease as “lower than what you might see” in other coun­ties, due to well­ness pro­grams the county par­tic­i­pates in.

The price tag on the pub­lic safety ini­tia­tives would in­clude costs of a county owned fir­ing range ($16.5 mil­lion), train­ing cen­ter ($30 mil­lion), a new voice ra­dio sys­tem ($42 mil­lion), and com­puter aided dis­patch­ing ($4.2 mil­lion), spread out over sev­eral years. “All of those tie into the price (of ser­vices) the cit­i­zens (of the county) have told the com­mis­sion­ers it is im­por­tant” for the county to pro­vide, Rup­sis said.

Main­tain­ing the county’s $20 mil­lion fund bal­ance re­serves helps the county main­tain its “triple-triple” bond rat­ing, which in turns makes bor­row­ing less ex­pen­sive, as well as pro­vid­ing a rainy day fund against un­fore­seen cir­cum­stances. Rup­sis said that re­serve fund helped the county pay for hu­man ser­vice providers dur­ing the bud­get cri­sis in Har­ris­burg, for ex­am­ple.

Prop­erty tax rev­enues would likely de­cline in 2017 if taxes were kept neu­tral be­cause the county tax base has grown at a slower pace than re­cent years, he said. In 2014 it grew by .68 per­cent, in 2015 by .82 per­cent, and in 2016 by .87 per­cent, but in 2017 he es­ti­mated that it will grow by .73 per­cent. That is far less than the 2.73 per­cent growth rate recorded in 2006, but bet­ter than the neg­a­tive growth num­bers seen af­ter the 2008 eco­nomic melt­down.

“Even with this in­crease, Chester County still has one of the low­est tax rates in south­east­ern Penn­syl­va­nia.” — Chester County Com­mis­sioner Michelle Kich­line

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