Commissioners approve tentative county budget

County commissioners approved a tentative budget Tuesday, but noted that amounts are dependent on the yet-unpassed state budget and could change when the impasse ends.

According to financial management Director Denise Elbell, the 2016 operating budget makes up about $75.4 million with $3.5 million toward capital reserve for a total of about $78.9 million. The budget also marks the sixth year of no tax millage increases, leaving the county rate at 7.84 mills.

“When we put this budget together, knowing there is no state budget, we were basically holding everything neutral,” she said, using 2015 figures as a base. If there are any changes when a state budget is passed, she said, this will change the county budget as well.

The county receives 60 percent of its total revenues in real estate tax, she said. According to budget documents, the 2016 tax revenue is estimated at about $26.5 million — one mill equals $3.4 million.

The remainder of the revenue is projected at $19.7 million in state revenue, $5.5 million in federal revenue, $3.3 million from department reimbursements and $8.4 million in fees, the budget said. This revenue has been consistent in previous years.

Chairman Steve Dershem said the finance staff was directed to assemble a budget with projections for what may be needed. Assuming flat funding is the norm, projections can be based on those figures and adjusted accordingly.

This is a bit of a unique situation for us. I don’t think we’ve ever gone this deep into the budget process without exactly knowing (the figures).

Steve Dershem

When it comes to taking out a line of credit, he said, no amount or decision has been made yet. Elbell said Friday that she’s calculating an amount the county could seek as a loan to carry it through the first quarter of the new year.

Any interest on money borrowed by the county would presumably be paid by the county, Dershem said. If a budget isn’t passed and the county needs a line of credit, the county would incrementally draw down on the credit, making it responsible for only the money used.

Hopefully, he said, the state could come to a resolution before the credit was exhausted.

Dershem said the incoming board, who will be sworn in on Jan. 4, will have an opportunity to reopen the budget for further discussion. Commissioner Michael Pipe affirmed the board will be examining the budget, taking the month of January to hold discussions.

“It’s an excellent start,” Pipe said. “Every new board puts their fingerprints on it.”

Approval of the tentative budget was tabled last week after Pipe was taken to Mount Nittany Medical Center for an emergency appendectomy and was unable to attend the weekly meeting. The final budget approval is scheduled for Dec. 29.

A $30.3 billion spending plan was approved by the state House on Tuesday, according to The Associated Press, after the state Senate approved a $30.8 billion governor-backed budget Monday. Democratic critics said it was very similar to a Republican budget that was vetoed by Gov. Tom Wolf.

Jeremy Hartley: 814-231-4616, @JJHartleyNews