Schuylkill Cham­ber hosts ‘State of the County’ break­fast

The Hazleton Standard-Speaker - - LOCAL - By MARK GILGER JR. Staff Writer

ORWIGSBURG — The Schuylkill County com­mis­sion­ers are look­ing for ways to in­crease rev­enue in 2017.

The com­mis­sion­ers said Wed­nes­day dur­ing the “State of the County” break­fast that they are con­sid­er­ing an ad­di­tional $5 fee on ve­hi­cle reg­is­tra­tions to pay for bridge re­pairs and a $15 fee on record­ing deeds and mort­gages that will be used to de­mol­ish blighted prop­er­ties.

The break­fast was or­ga­nized by the Schuylkill County Cham­ber of Com­merce, spon­sored by Boyer’s Food Mar­kets and held at Carmelo’s Ro­man De­light, Orwigsburg.

John Pow­ers, chair­man of the cham­ber’s Govern­ment Af­fairs Com­mit­tee, asked the com­mis­sion­ers sev­eral ques­tions. He first asked how the county can con­tinue to pro­vide ser­vices while the state and fed­eral gov­ern­ments is­sue un­funded man­dates for hu­man ser­vice agen­cies like Chil­dren & Youth.

“We have had a good re­serve in place for those types of is­sues,” Com­mis­sioner Gary J. Hess said.

How­ever, Hess said about 10 per­cent of fund­ing to hu­man ser­vices agen­cies was cut a few years ago and never re­couped. The county’s main source of rev­enue is prop­erty taxes.

“The county re­lies on about 65 per­cent prop­erty taxes and the rest is on fees and some grants we go out and ap­ply for,” Hess said. “I al­ways felt we need some other source of rev­enue com­ing in. We don’t sell wid­gets, we pro­vide ser­vices.”

Com­mis­sioner Frank J. Stau­den­meier said the county has been able to go a long time with only a few tax in­creases, but it is only get­ting more dif­fi­cult as health care costs and salaries con­tinue to rise.

“When your rev­enue is flat and ex­penses are get­ting higher, you can only do it for so long,” Stau­den­meier said. “You have to be as ef­fi­cient as you can, but it is un­for­tu­nate this year we had to have a tax in­crease.”

The county went 10 years with­out a tax in­crease be­fore adopt­ing a 2014 bud­get with a 2-mill jump. This year’s bud­get is the sec­ond mill­age in­crease for prop­erty own­ers in 12 years, but also the sec­ond in the last three years. The 2017 bud­get in­creased prop­erty taxes 1 mill to 14.98 mills.

Pow­ers asked the com­mis­sion­ers about two new rev­enue sources avail­able to the county through re­cent leg­is­la­tion.

The first is a $5 fee the county can im­pose on ve­hi­cle reg­is­tra­tions that would go to­ward fix­ing county-owned bridges. The county owns 67 bridges and Stau­den­meier said re­pairs would cost about $12 mil­lion. The fee would gen­er­ate about $750,000 an­nu­ally for the county.

“We just had this con­ver­sa­tion two weeks ago and we are go­ing to pur­sue this,” Stau­den­meier said.

“We rec­og­nize that the in­fras­truc­ture is de­te­ri­o­rat­ing and we just do not have the money and here is an op­por­tu­nity to gen­er­ate some money. ”

Hess said the county stretches its liq­uid fuel fund­ing to re­pair two or three bridges a year and bring­ing in ad­di­tional fund­ing will al­low for more re­pairs an­nu­ally.

“We def­i­nitely need these bridges re­paired,” Hess said. “This is bring­ing in a mech­a­nism to bring in funds and I think it will be money that will be used very wisely, es­pe­cially since we have over 60 bridges.”

DAVID McKE­OWN/Staff Pho­tog­ra­pher

Com­mis­sioner Chair­man Ge­orge F. Hal­co­v­age Jr., cen­ter, speaks dur­ing the Schuylkill Cham­ber of Com­merce’s “State of the County” panel dis­cus­sion at Ro­man De­light Restau­rant III in Orwigsburg on Wed­nes­day with fel­low com­mis­sion­ers Gary J. Hess, left, and Frank J. Stau­den­meier.

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