Westmoreland County commissioners balance new $348M budget without raising taxes
Westmoreland County will borrow about $20 million early next year to pay for the high-priced capital improvement projects, including the purchase of new voting machines, commissioners said Thursday.
The projects — which also include enhancements to county parks, new lighting and energy saving projects for the courthouse and security upgrades at county buildings — were identified but not funded in the county’s 2019 budget that increased expenses and had to be balanced using a surplus fund that is expected to be whittled down to $5.5 million by the end of next year.
“We will have to borrow money for the projects,” said Commissioner Ted Kopas.
County officials said new voting machines will be purchased next year and are expected to be ready for the 2020 presidential election. The touch screen voting machines are estimated to cost up to $9 million.
The new budget includes funding for $6.3 million in capital projects, such as upgrades to the county’s computer systems, street resurfacings and a $1.3 million construction of the county’s heritage trail system. Most of those projects will be paid for by grants or money previously allocated.
The $348 million budget, unanimously approved by the three commissioners, keeps the current tax rate at 20.99 mills but also carries a $7.6 million spending deficit to be covered by the surplus fund. Commissioners have not raised county property taxes since 2005.
“We are trying to squeeze out every dollar possible and look for alternate forms of revenues to avert a tax increase for as long as possible,” Kopas said.
Over the last month, commissioners cut about $1.1 million in expenses from the proposed budget and managed to identify more than $800,000 in new revenues.
Human service programs account for 32 percent of the county’s overall budget.
Salaries and benefits for the county’s 1,800 workers are 48 percent of the $146 million general operating fund. The cost to provide health insurance to employees is expected to increase to $24 million, about $1.5 million more than in 2018.
“There were more cuts we wanted to make, but we have to make sure all the services are met,” said Commissioner Gina Cerilli.
The budget includes no service cuts or layoffs. It also kept allocations to outside agencies such as the airport authority, transit authority and community college at their current levels.
Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Rich at 724-830-6293 or [email protected]