Northumberland County passes tentative $72.7M budget
SUNBURY - Northumberland County commissioners avoided a possible shutdown in government services Tuesday by passing a tentative $72.7 million budget for 2014 that calls for a 1 1/2-mill tax increase.
Vinny Clausi and Stephen Bridy voted to approve the budget while Richard Shoch again voted no.
The commissioners, who failed to approve the budget twice last month, have until Dec. 31 to pass a final spending plan.
Clausi said the tax increase will generate an estimated $1.1 million for the debt fund and is needed to cover a seven-year, $7.5 million loan for federally mandated upgrades to the 911 system.
He said the millage increase will result in property owners paying between $14 and $65 more in real estate taxes next year, depending on the type of home they own.
Budget director Jeff McClintock said the budget includes approximately $107,000 in salaries and benefits for the prothonotary, register and recorder and coroner that weren't listed in the initial proposed budget.
Clausi and Bridy previously voted to cut the salaries of row officers by 42 to 48 percent and increase their health care contributions, but a temporary court injunction has put the change on hold.
The budget will be available for public inspection for 20 days.
Prior to the budget vote, 911 coordinator Bill Brown scolded the commissioners, saying concerns involving upgrades to the system should have been addressed months ago.
"Do you care about the safety of your residents and employees?" he said. "I'm not going to have someone killed on my watch."
Clausi briefly broke down in tears while talking about his decision to vote for the budget after previously balking because Shoch opposed it.
"I know I'm doing the right thing," he said. "I feel bad for the county taxpayers, children and county employees. I won't let the people of Northumberland County suffer."
He said Shoch is part of the "destruction" not the solution because he never objected to monthly budget updates provided by McClintock. He called Shoch a "goof."
He also called Joseph Pancerella and Gene Welsh to the podium to address the negotiating process involved with leasing the Seiple complex on North Second Street in Sunbury that contains three buildings housing numerous county offices. Clausi claims Shoch mentioned the complex costs as a reason for opposing the budget.
Pancerella said the initial 10-year lease was negotiated under the former Allen Cwalina/Charles "Chap" Lewis administration. But under the new rates that he, Welsh and Craig Fetterman renegotiated at Clausi's direction as members of the county authority board, the county pays $688,494 per year, $523,311 less than it paid in 2007. Clausi has said it will total $23 million in savings over the course of the remaining years of the lease.
"It was a triple net lease that the county is responsible for paying taxes on," Welsh said. "It's a win-win for the county and the taxpayers."
Shoch said the issue was not among his reasons for voting against the budget despite it being cited as such in a newspaper article.
In an earlier interview, he said payments toward the lease of the human services buildings have little to no impact on the county budget because state pass-through funding is applied toward the payments. He said he had raised the issue "to illustrate the degree to which Mr. Clausi is willing to mislead the public."
Also, he said the new lease requires the county provide all maintenance on the complex buildings.
Clausi previously said he agreed the maintenance contract was a "bad deal," but said "we got what we could." Still, at $12,000, which is what the county paid last year, the county is paying less than if it had to maintain the buildings with its own workers and supplies, he said.
Also, Clausi noted previously, the renegotiation means the county will own the buildings when the lease expires.
In other business:
The commissioners authorized payment of approximately $469,675.01 to retirees for health and welfare benefits for 2013. Shoch abstained on the vote because his mother is a retired county employee.
The board approved the advertising of multiple county-related meetings on a 2-1 vote. Shoch opposed it because none of the commissioners' meetings in 2014 are scheduled to be held in the evenings, which he said would allow more people to attend.
Bridy and Nicholas Goretski III were re-appointed to the SEDA-COG Board of Directors for a one-year term.
Newly elected county prothonotary Justin Dunkelberger and Anthony Fiorenza were re-appointed to three-year and two-year terms, respectively, to the county planning commission.
James Boylan was re-appointed to a five-year term and Goretski was appointed to fill the unexpired term of Steve Roush on the Northumberland County Housing Authority.
David Crowl of Elysburg and Richard Daniels of Dalmatia were re-appointed to three-year terms as contractor director and farmer director, respectively, on the Northumberland County Agricultural Land Preservation Board. William Geise of Northumberland was appointed to renew his position as chairman for a one-year term on the board.
Charles Beck of Milton, Edward Christiano of Coal Township, Clausi, who resides in Coal Township, and Sandra Ressler of Sunbury were re-appointed to two-year terms on the Affordable Housing Fund Board. Thomas Diehl of Northumberland was re-appointed to a one-year term and Carmine Picarelli of Sunbury was re-appointed chairman.
The commissioners allocated monies not to exceed $12,000 from the Act 137 Affordable Housing Fund to remove debris from a fire-damaged property at 916 Chestnut St., Kulpmont.
The board changed the non-bargaining employee contribution rate toward health insurance from a flat fee to 10 percent of the monthly premium, effective Jan. 1, 2014. Shoch voted against the motion because he didn't have time to review it.
The board confirmed the appointment of county planning director Pat Mack as a voting member of the SEDA-COG Metropolitan Planning Organization.