No trick to this treat - no new taxes

The Phoenix - - FRONT PAGE - By Michael P. Rel­la­han mrel­la­han@21st-cen­tu­ry­ Staff Writer

This treat is no trick, but it did take some hard work by Ch­ester County of­fi­cials to bring to life.

Just in time for Hal­loween, the county an­nounced Tues­day that the 2019 pre­lim­i­nary bud­get in­cludes no in­crease in county real es­tate taxes, while keep­ing the level of ser­vice in county de­part­ments — in­clud­ing hu­man ser­vices, pub­lic safety, and the courts — at ap­prox­i­mately the same level as this year.

“This was a strug­gle go­ing through,” county Chief Fi­nan­cial Of­fice Julie Bookheimer told the au­di­ence at the com­mis­sion­ers’ Sun­shine work ses­sion, at the con­clu­sion of a brief out­line of the county’s fi­nan­cial plan for the com­ing year. “But over­all the tax rate will not be gong up, and that looks good for the county.”

Bookheimer said that un­der the county’s pro­posed bud­get, the gen­eral fund would in­crease to $475.9 mil­lion, up from $471 mil­lion. The to­tal bud­get would rise to $539 mil­lion, in­clud­ing a steady $63.4 mil­lion cap­i­tal bud­get.

Taxes, paid for by county prop­erty own­ers, would stay sta­ble at 4.369 mills, with the me­dian county prop­erty owner

pay­ing about $731, an in­crease over 2018 rates of $1.71, Bookheimer said. A mill is worth $1 for every $1,000 of as­sessed prop­erty value.

Real es­tate tax re­ceipts ac­count for about $167 mil­lion of the county’s rev­enue, sec­ond only to the $190.1 mil­lion it gets from state and fed­eral grants to keep the county’s ser­vices run­ning smoothly.

The main in­crease in spend­ing un­der the 2019 bud­get that will come out of lo­cal tax­payer funds are an es­ti­mated in­crease in fund­ing for the county’s pen­sion plan. Costs in 2018 for the county’s re­tirees are $9.3 mil­lion, but are ex­pected to rise to $11.1 mil­lion in 2019, Bookheimer said.

In ad­di­tion, the county an­tic­i­pates hav­ing to spend $6 mil­lion to $8 mil­lion to up­grade its vot­ing ma­chines in time for the 2020 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. The state has ordered a new set of cer­ti­fi­ca­tion re­quire­ments for the county’s vot­ing ma­chines to meet, which Bookheimer said would mean the re­place­ment of about 520 ma­chines for the county’s 228 precincts.

The county is one of the ju­ris­dic­tions across the state that uses elec­tronic count­ing ma­chine to to­tal elec­tion re­sults, but which also have a backup pa­per trail in case a re­count is nec­es­sary, as it was in 2016.

Bookheimer said that the pro­posed bud­get would be pre­sented to the pub­lic at an open ses­sion sched­uled for 7 p.m. on Nov. 27. Ten­ta­tive adop­tion of the bud­get by the com­mis­sion­ers is set for Dec. 12.

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