Dauphin County Commissioners Propose Responsible, Results-Driven 2014 Budget

Dauphin County Commissioners Propose Responsible, Results-Driven 2014 Budget

As released by Dauphin County:

Citing careful financial planning and ongoing efforts to save money, the Dauphin County Commissioners announced today they will be able to hold the line on property taxes for the ninth year in a row.

The preliminary $230.6 million spending plan for 2014 is 5.47 percent less than this year’s budget.

Through cost cutting measures and conservative budgeting, the commissioners have been able to avoid turning to taxpayers despite the unexpected incinerator costs and state and federal budget cuts.

“At the forefront of every decision this board makes is our concern for how to best serve the taxpayers of Dauphin County,” said Chairman Jeff Haste. “We are committed to maintaining the services on which our residents depend while ensuring we are spending every dollar wisely.”

Under the county’s preliminary budget, the millage rate will remain at 6.876 mills, meaning the owner of a home assessed at $100,000 would continue to pay $687.60 a year.

Careful planning also allowed the county to weather the low interest rate environment brought on by the weak economy. County investment earnings fell from $3.1 million in 2007 to $165,000 in 2012.

The following are among the steps taken by the commissioners to hold the line on taxes:

• Saving an estimated $3.1 million over 10 years by buying 1100 S. Cameron St. for $8.3 million rather than continuing to lease the facility for the county’s Drug and Alcohol Services.

• Undertaking a comprehensive energy audit and infrastructure upgrades to county facilities. Under a contract with Constellation Energy, the county spent $7 million on lighting, heating, ventilation and air conditioning and water control upgrades. Last year, the energy upgrades resulted in savings of more than $664,000. Over 15 years, the upgrades are expected to save the county $10 million. Just this month, the commissioners approved the replacement of an aging water heating system at Dauphin County Prison with a more efficient and cost-effective solar water heating system, which is expected to save $3,000 a year at the Swatara Township-based facility.

• The county also recently doubled the size of its 14-acre solar farm, located off Fishing Creek Valley Road in Middle Paxton and West Hanover townships, which is expected to generate just over 2 megawatts of power – enough to cover almost 40 percent of the county’s electricity needs.

• Consolidating the adult and juvenile probation departments into Dauphin County Probation Services, resulting in process efficiencies and anticipated cost savings following the merger transition.

• Emphasizing community-based, family-oriented treatment options for juveniles that have reduced the number of youth in secure placements by 60 percent. This approach allowed the county in 2010 to completely close its Schaffner Youth Center, saving an estimated $1.2 million annually.

• Saving more than $5 million since 2005 through reducing the number of county positions, limiting pay increases and instituting a policy in which departments must wait one fiscal quarter before filling a vacancy.

• Selling the county’s Spring Creek Nursing Home in 2006, saving at least $5 million a year while ensuring beds for those in need remain available.

The county’s guaranty obligation on the Harrisburg incinerator will also substantially decrease with the sale of the facility to the Lancaster County Solid Waste Management Authority, dropping from $146 million to $24 million. Furthermore, the county’s annual debt service cost will also be reduced to $800,000.

While the expected resolution of Harrisburg’s debt issues is good news for the entire region, the county continues to face budgetary challenges moving forward.

A major concern is the increasing cost of the county’s emergency 911 system. The system was originally set up to be supported through fees primarily levied on landlines, but as more people use only mobile devices the funding has not kept pace.

In 2007, the county contributed $600 to cover additional costs associated with wireless 911 communications – a number that has grown to $3 million this year as land-line usage has fallen off and is anticipated to be roughly the same in 2014.

While counties receive a $1.25 monthly fee for every landline within its borders, the state reimburses counties for wireless and calls made over the Internet through a grant process, which has not kept pace with actual expenses. In 2012, almost 80 percent of the more than 165,000 calls to 911 were from wireless devices.

“We are hoping state lawmakers act quickly to give counties the help they need to continue funding emergency 911 services at the level the public expects,” said Commissioner Mike Pries, who oversees the county’s Emergency Management Agency. “Ensuring public safety is our top priority.”

“We know our residents are counting on us to find the best ways to deliver services without coming back to them for more money and that consideration is at the center of everything we do,” said Commissioner George P. Hartwick III.

The board continues to control costs through responsible financial planning and implementing results-driven best practices throughout county government.

The proposed 2014 budget will be available for public inspection for 20 days. The board is expected to approve a final budget at its December 18 public meeting.

To view the preliminary budget, please visit www.DauphinCounty.org and select “Government Services for Citizens,” “About the County,” and then “County Budget Info” or visit the county Administration Building, 4th Floor, 2 S. Second St., Harrisburg. Any questions or comments may be directed to the Commissioners’ Office at 717-780-6300.