Schuylkill Chamber hosts ‘State of the County’ breakfast
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.”
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.