Officials drop planned tax rise

Commissioners decided not to fill some vacancies.
NEW CASTLE, Pa. -- Property owners in Lawrence County won't see an increase in their county taxes after all.
County commissioners passed the 2002 budget Monday without the proposed 2-mill tax increase they announced in early December.
They said they underestimated the revenue the county should receive this year and made cuts to several county offices to keep the 2002 tax rate at 27.4 mills.
They also shuffled around millage originally meant to pay on the county debt and the county library system to the general operating fund to balance the $22.2 million spending plan.
Millage: Commissioner Brian Burick said the library system was initially getting 0.8 mills, but will now receive 0.7, roughly $325,000, the same amount it got last year.
Each year, new property is added to county tax rolls, increasing the value of the millage. Officials say one mill of tax in Lawrence County should be valued at about $450,000 this year.
The millage dedicated to pay off the county's debt was also reduced from 4 mills to 3.95 mills. Burick said that should still cover the annual $1.6 million debt payment.
Commissioners said the extra 0.15 mills will now go to the general fund budget, which was set at 22.75 mills. The extra money is needed to cover regular expenses, raises and increases in health care costs.
Commissioners estimated they could add about $10 million worth of taxable property to the county rolls for 2002, generating about $250,000 in taxes, in the next year with two newly created jobs in the assessor's office.
They also realized that interest rates were rising and county investments would generate more money than originally anticipated, Burick said.
Cutting positions: The new sources of revenue, however, won't cover all of the county's expenses in 2002.
To balance the budget, commissioners said they are eliminating several positions that were vacated by people retiring and other jobs are being reduced from full-time to part-time. Those moves are expected to save about $120,000.
Commissioners also cut a total of about $40,000 from the budgets of the prothonotary's office, county register and recorder and the district attorney. That money had paid for part-time workers and summer help.
Agencies: Commissioner Roger DeCarbo said he refused to increase taxes and sent letters to 11 agencies asking them to forgo their county money.
Among the agencies were the historical society, the tourist promotion agency, the humane society, the Hoyt Institute of Fine Arts and United Way.
None agreed to give up their money, he said.
The Economic Development Agency was asked to give up $45,000. Director Linda Nitch also declined Monday.
She urged commissioners to reinstate EDA funding to $79,000, which is where it was last year, saying the agency is directly responsible for attracting new companies and jobs to the area.
Commissioners declined, but DeCarbo said if more revenue is generated in the next year they may agree to give the agency more money.
Burick said after the meeting that commissioners reduced the agency's funding because they knew the agency had extra money this year from the sale of two buildings.

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