Schuylkill County Commissioners approved a more than $70 million spending plan for 2022 last Wednesday.
The budget doesn’t call for any tax increase but passing it didn’t happen quietly.
Schuylkill County Commissioners Approve 2022 Budget with No Tax Hike
County Finance Director Paul Buber spelled out the details of the budget before Commissioners eventually voted to approve it.
Maybe most importantly – at least to your wallet – is the fact that property taxes in Schuylkill County aren’t going up in 2022. The 2022 budget calls for a real estate millage of 15.98 mills. Of that, 15.38 goes to the General Fund and the remainder goes to the Funded Debt account.
Per the approved budget Buber introduced, the County government plans to spend $70,148,920. It expects revenue to come in at $65,450,758. That $4,698,162 shortfall is being made up by money from the General Fund Unsigned Fund balance.
The stagnation in property taxes is temporarily a good sign, but the county plans to spend more money than it’s receiving. And that can’t last forever without some hike in taxes or a reduction in spending.
Bet on the tax hike over the reduced spending, for sure.
Earlier this year, when we suggested to Commissioners that they could just not spend as much money as they do, we got an hour-long lecture on unfunded mandates, rising costs, yada yada yada. While that may be partly true, we’ve seen ample evidence that this County government isn’t the stingiest with its money.
Unanimous Approval, Not Without Controversy
The Commissioners unanimously approved passing the budget last week but it wasn’t exactly a smooth vote.
Prior to the budget’s introduction before the board, questions were asked of the budget’s availability to the public prior to the vote. By law, the budget must be in full view of the public for 20 days from its first preliminary introduction to the day the final version is voted on by the Commissioners.
Jeff Dunkel, of Palo Alto, claims the full budget was not available in the Commissioners office at the Courthouse for the full 20 days. Therefore, the board shouldn’t have voted on it when they did last week.
He says it wasn’t. The County is saying it was.
Commissioner Gary Hess questioned Solicitor Chris Hobbs on the matter and got an answer that allowed him to move forward with passing the spending plan.
Regardless, during the 20 days between the preliminary budget being introduced and the vote last Wednesday, the County went out of its way to keep the budget from the public’s view.
As noted in our previous reports, it’s unreasonable to ask taxpayers or residents to head to the Courthouse during business hours or work hours to examine a lengthy budget and not be able to leave without a copy of it unless they’re willing to pay for copies.
Putting a digital copy of the budget on the County website would be an easy task and a simple show of transparency. Instead, the County was forcing anyone from the public who wished to see a PDF copy of this budget to fill out a Right to Know request.
The Canary filed a RTK form with the Courthouse and on the deadline day for it to respond, we were told the County needed more time to complete the request and to check if it was a legal RTK request. Both responses were stall tactics for no other reason than County officials knew they could.
Rather than be transparent, the Courthouse intentionally chose to be vindictive and arrogant by withholding the budget information for as long as it could.
Eventually though, the County did respond and sent The Canary a digital copy of the 2022 budget. But it wasn’t the full budget.
When we initially asked the Courthouse – without filing a RTK form – for a copy of the budget, we were told it was at last 120 pages long. However, the budget documents the County submitted in response to our RTK was just 56 pages.
We’ve heard from the people in charge at the Courthouse say they’re doing all sorts of things in the interest of transparency.
But when they miss a transparency lay-up like they did in blocking reasonable access to the 2022 budget proposal, it shows where they really stand on being upfront with residents of Schuylkill County.