Dauphin County passes no-tax increase budget for record 13th straight year

The Dauphin County Commissioners today approved a $241 million budget for 2018 that holds the line on property taxes for an unprecedented 13th straight year and continues a path to being debt-free.
While the board cautioned that increasing costs and demand for services continue to present budgetary challenges, the county’s current $75 million in borrowed debt is due to be retired by 2024.
In approving the preliminary spending plan last month, the board noted the need to increase funding to the Coroner’s Office due to increase in overdoses – expected to top 100 by the end of the month. In 2016, the county saw 85 overdose deaths – surpassing those killed in car accidents. In 2016, the county saw 85 overdose deaths – exceeding those killed in car accidents.
“This board continues to balance the need for conservative budgeting with the corresponding responsibility to provide vital services for our residents,’’ said board Chairman Jeff Haste. “We also never stop looking for ways to make our limited resources go farther, which is why we are pursuing a lawsuit against opioid manufacturers to force them to help pay for drug treatment and prevention programs.’’
In September, the commissioners announced plans to join the legal fight against pharmaceutical companies that aggressively marketed opioids while downplaying the addiction dangers. The lawsuit is being handled on a contingency basis, meaning taxpayers are not responsible for the legal costs and the county will share in any money recovered. All money received will go toward paying for drug abuse treatment and prevention programs.
“I’m proud of our board’s record of holding the line on property taxes for a 13th year and of living up to the fiscal leadership our residents expect and deserve,’’ said Commissioner Mike Pries. “This board doesn’t shy away from tough choices, and we weigh the impact to taxpayers with every decision we make.’’
“This board pays attention to details and employs best practices, which has allowed us to deal with an almost 400 percent increase in people needing help to fight addiction without asking for more help from taxpayers,’’ said Commissioner George P. Hartwick, III. “We continue to improve the way we deliver services to maximize our limited resources and keep our most vulnerable residents safe.’’
Similar to this year’s spending plan, the 2018 budget calls for using $12.5 million from reserves, leaving an estimated $25 million by the end of next year. Careful budgeting and an improving economy allowed the county to spend less in reserves than expected in 2017 -- $5.2 million instead of the anticipated $12.5 million. Increased real estate sales generated an additional $200,000 in fee revenue from the Recorder of Deeds’ Office.
Helping the 2018 budget, the commissioners saved the county about $1 million in salary costs by extending their policy of hiring only once a quarter instead of immediately filling vacancies. Self-insuring is expected to keep next year’s health insurance increase to 4 percent and has saved taxpayers an estimated $5 million since 2009.
The $241 million budget for 2018 represents a 4.9 percent decrease in spending due to a change in the way the state will subsidize child care for welfare recipients and eligible working families.
Dauphin County received $25.3 million in 2017 for the program, which was transferred to locally run agencies; the state will now handle payments directly to a new provider network. In 2018 and 2019, the county will receive $13.5 million as the state transfers the program’s operations.