The Westmoreland County Commissioners on Friday voted to present a proposed 2020 budget for public inspection, but said afterward there remains “a lot of work to do” to cut costs before final budget approval next month.
While the proposed $339 million budget holds the line on property tax rates at 20.99 mills, it does so by drawing heavily from the county’s fund balance reserves. The commissioners were noncommittal on whether property tax rates would remain the same in the final budget.
“We have three weeks going forward to be able to go back through the budget and try to cut as much as we can,” commissioners chairwoman Gina Cerilli said following Friday’s meeting. “We did do that, but there’s still a lot more that we are able to go back through. This is a proposed budget and we’re hoping to have different numbers by Dec. 19.”
The proposed 2020 general fund budget shows a shortfall of $9,357,566 between anticipated revenues and expenditures. The budget’s year-end estimate for 2019 shows a shortfall of more than $19 million.
Including 2019 year-end estimates, the deficit between general fund revenues and expenditures has grown in each of the last three years. Since 2015, the county’s fund balance has shrunk from more than $56 million to a 2019 year-end estimate of $12.8 million. Based on the proposed 2020 budget, the general fund balance would be reduced to $3.5 million at the end of 2020.
Last year’s final budget marked the 14th consecutive year the county had managed to hold the line on property tax rates at 20.99 mills. The county’s last property tax rate increase came in 2005 with a 4-mill increase.
“It’s one of the biggest things we’ll have to tussle with in the next three weeks,” commissioner Charles Anderson said of the budget and shrinking fund balance. “We’ll do what we have to do.”
According to the proposed budget, the average Westmoreland County taxpayer pays $440.09 per year in county taxes, or $20.96 per mill annually. Each mill generates $3,958,214 in revenue for the county.
Cerilli is the only member of the board of commissioners who will be serving again next year. Anderson is retiring and commissioner Ted Kopas was unsuccessful in his re-election bid seeking a third term in office. Kopas left the commissioners’ meeting room immediately following Friday’s meeting and did not comment on the 2020 budget.
In other business of note, the commissioners approved:
- A communications system agreement with Motorola Solutions for enhancements to the county’s public safety radio system. The agreement totals $1,908,000 and is funded through the 2019 bond construction. The enhancements include an additional paging system site, simulcast cell and rectifier replacement, tower-top amplifier replacement and a gorge ASR site addition;
- A statement of work with Hexagon Safety & Infrastructure totaling $873,668.55 for upgrades to the county’s computer aided dispatch (CAD) system, funded through the 2019 bond construction;
- A subrecipient agreement with Homes Build Hope, Inc. for $75,000 in PHARE funding to be used to create additional transitional housing and emergency shelter space at the Union Mission shelter in Derry Township;
- Awarding the bid for the county’s fleet leasing services to Enterprise Fleet Management for $135,797.16 covering a one-year term for 2020, with four one-year renewal options. Enterprise submitted the lowest of three bids for fleet leasing.