CARLISLE – Cumberland County Commissioners on Thursday unanimously voted to advertise a budget ordinance, setting the stage for a 3 percent property tax increase in 2014.
The county had put a draft of the preliminary budget on display last week but did not set a millage rate because there were unanswered questions, mainly regarding the library’s portion of the property tax.
The newly advertised millage rate is 2.195 mills, which reflects a 3 percent tax increase.
The increase does not include the additional millage the Cumberland County Library System requested Wednesday to help make ends meet.
Without that extra $100,000, library Executive Director Jonelle Prether Darr said, the library is in danger of depleting its reserves by 2016 and would have to step up its aggressive fundraising.
This was a maintenance budget for the library with no additional services or increases, library treasurer Paul Fisher told commissioners.
Now that the millage-ordinance will be advertised, and the draft budget has been put on display for public viewing and comment, the final budget is set for adoption Dec. 9.
“It should never be easy to ask for a tax increase,” Chief Clerk Larry Thomas said prior to the commissioners’ action. “It should never be the standard response to a budget deficit.”
In asking for the 3 percent increase, Thomas said, the county took a long, hard look throughout its departments to find ways to reduce it.
But this budget is one of transition as the county restructures how it does business, he pointed out. The county just received recommendations from Public Financial Management, a consultant hired to help the county streamline services and cut costs next year and beyond.
Commissioner Jim Hertzler said he was torn about casting his vote because he does not like the idea of increasing property taxes two years in a row. The county had a 12 percent tax hike for 2013.
“We made some progress, but we have a lot of work cut out for us,” Hertzler said.
He added he would not support the library system’s request because he does not believe county taxpayers should make up the difference for depleted state funds. He said that message should be taken to legislators.
Commissioner Gary Eichelberger also said he will support advertising the millage rate but does so reluctantly.
He added it’s unfortunate the county could not help the library, which he said has done a great job managing its finances and is a model for other county departments. Many of the library’s problems are not of its own making, but with finances the way they are, the library has been forced to entrench and the level of services it provides has been put in jeopardy, he said.
Eichelberger added he has doubts about the budget that’s on display and much thought will have to go into it before final approval.
Commissioner Barbara Cross said commissioners knew several years ago that these would be challenging times for the county. She said it takes courage to make the decisions that need to be made.
“We still have a tremendous place to live,” Cross said. “And as I have and will continue to advocate, we have the lowest possible taxes.”