County budget includes tax hike
The county property taxes will increase for first time in five years
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