No property tax hike expected in Butler County 2014 budget

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Property tax rates in Butler County will hold steady in the coming year if county commissioners follow through on a plan to approve a 2014 budget that has the backing of the majority of the three-man board.

The $194.7 spending plan is set for a final vote at 10 a.m. Tuesday. It was presented for review earlier this month.

The current millage rate is 20.688 to support a general fund of $60.1 million.

The millage rate for debt service is 3.94.

While there are no plans to make any significant changes to the county's staffing -- 14 elected officials, 761 full-time workers, 111 part-timers, and 43 seasonal employees -- there are a couple of big capital projects on the horizon. Commissioners Chairman Bill McCarrier said the county is in the process of acquiring land in Cranberry for the construction of a new district judge office and an expansion of office space via construction of a county government "annex" building is anticipated.

As it's been historically, nearly half of the county's total expenditures is devoted to human services, much of which is funded through state and federal revenues. About $10 million annually subsidizes the county lockup, a figure that's expected to be defrayed by $2 million in 2014 from payments for prisoners from outside the county court system.

Mr. McCarrier said costs continue to rise annually, but are being offset by a combination of prudent management by department heads and elected officials as well as increased revenue from the taxes on new construction. He estimated the increased property tax revenue at $700,000.

Meanwhile, a new income stream has begun; the county is expecting to receive $70,000 in royalty checks from Marcellus Shale drilling on county-owned land at the Sunnyview Nursing Home campus in Butler Township.

Mr. McCarrier and his colleague Dale Pinkerton have indicated they will vote in favor of the 2014 budget. Commissioner Jim Eckstein has voiced opposition at public meetings, saying he believes payroll costs for the coming year could be reduced by increasing health insurance premiums for nonunion employees and departing from the tradition of giving 3 percent raises scheduled for union employees to nonunion employees as well.

Mr. McCarrier said he is pleased to be planning for a couple of construction projects in 2014.

The new DJ's office in Cranberry will be on a 1-acre lot on Leonberg Road. The proposed purchase price is about $92,000. The land is being tested to be certain it is suitable for construction. Mr. McCarrier said the $700,000 project will likely save money over the long term in rental prices.

The current office is located along Executive Drive. He hopes the new office will be ready for occupancy by mid-year.

Mr. McCarrier said the annex building, to be attached by a 10-foot walkway to the county government center on the site of the old jail, would add about 40,000 square feet of office space to county operations.

He said he hopes the planning and design will begin in 2014, but it could take 18 months to finish. He estimates the cost of the project at $12 million.

Another big change anticipated for 2014 is the sale of the Sunnyview Nursing Home.

The county is looking into selling the facility, but operations still are budgeted for 2014.

If the nursing home isn't sold in 2014, the budget anticipates funding the nursing home with about $800,000 from the general fund. The nursing home covers the rest of its costs, which total about $20 million a year.

Mr. McCarrier summed up his assessment of the 2014 budget: "We're just excited we didn't have to raise taxes."

Karen Kane: kkane@post-gazette.com or 724-772-9180.


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