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Schuylkill County News

Will Property Taxes Go Up When Schuylkill County Exhausts ARPA Money?

Full ARPA spending details included

In the last two budget seasons, Schuylkill County has leaned heavily on a significant financial crutch – American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds, totaling $11 million – to fill the gaping holes in its budget caused by multi-million-dollar shortfalls.

This influx of cash has been the only barrier against property tax hikes for the fiscal years 2023 and 2024, offering a temporary respite to the county’s residents from the burden of increased taxes.

With $27.5 million received in ARPA funds by 2022, Schuylkill County’s officials have juggled the budget in such a way that they might just dodge a tax increase in 2025 as well.

However, the clock is ticking, and the funds are drying up. The Canary’s investigation into the county’s financial strategies reveals a concerning picture: only a little over $7.5 million of ARPA funds remains unspent or uncommitted for projects in 2024.

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Commissioner Larry Padora provided The Canary with a detailed ARPA spending report from Susquehanna Accounting & Consulting Solutions, highlighting the precarious financial future Schuylkill County is barreling towards.

The numbers suggest a looming crisis, with ARPA funds on the verge of depletion and the county’s budget balancing act becoming increasingly difficult.

To date, commissioners have spent $9,011,161.78 in ARPA funds on various projects and expenses. You can find a full breakdown of those expenses below.

An additional $6.6 million is earmarked for 2024, including significant allocations for a pre-release prison ($4 million), potential broadband initiatives ($1 million), and a fire training school ($1 million). Another $600,000 is reserved for unforeseen expenses such as contract changes, price hikes, and supply chain issues.

However, this ARPA spending plan is not set in stone. Padora notes that the $6.6 million designated for 2024 could be redirected, like to balance the 2025 budget if necessary. This would leave approximately $13.1 million available to offset a projected budget shortfall for 2025, continuing the trend of using ARPA funds to avoid tax increases.

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Yet, this strategy is short-sighted. The County has already spent $11 million in ARPA funds to manage budget shortfalls in the past two years, according to the spending report.

Relying on this temporary fix overlooks the imminent financial struggles and does not account for the future, potentially plunging the county into a fiscal nightmare once the funds run out.

The ongoing property tax reassessment adds another layer of complexity to the county’s financial challenges.

Expected to take effect in 2026, the new tax rates will limit the Commissioners’ ability to adjust the budget significantly. After reassessment, the County must set a revenue-neutral millage rate, legally barring them from collecting more than they did previously.

They do have the option of raising taxes in 2026 by taking a separate vote right after setting the first post-reassessment millage rate, but only by 10%.

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This might not suffice to cover expenses, forcing the county to confront its budgetary constraints head-on.

In essence, Schuylkill County’s reliance on ARPA funds, especially from here until the money runs out is the proverbial Band-Aid on a flesh wound.

As the county begins to prepare its 2025 budget later this year and weighs the possibility of spending that $6.6 million , it must also anticipate the financial implications of the 2026 reassessment and the budget for that year.

Without a sustainable plan for financial stability, the county risks facing significant budget shortfalls and the difficult decision of raising taxes or cutting services.

Schuylkill County Full ARPA Spending Report

As noted, The Canary received the full report on how Schuylkill County has spent its ARPA funds. We’ve created a table to better show how much was spent and on what.

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As you can see, nearly all the money spent by the County Commissioners went to County projects.

The biggest expense was the $3.98 million spent on the 9-1-1 project for western Schuylkill County. That was just some of the total expense for the project.

No other project expense using ARPA money has topped the $1 million mark.

Not shown on this table is the expense for administering and accounting for the County’s ARPA money. That money, which is paid to Susquehanna, equals $126,705.50 to date (not including 2024).

DescriptionCostARPA Justification
30 Air and Surface Pro Units30,350.00Direct Program Expense
Video Conferencing/Courts7,989.00Direct Program Expense
Children & Youth Building (Estimate)243,890.23Direct Program Expense
Van for Coroner for Transports45,725.09Direct Program Expense
Ag Easements (2 Years)400,000.00Revenue Loss
Ag Easements (2024)200,000.00Revenue Loss
Network/Infrastructure/MIS Cybersecurity308,891.73Direct Program Expense
Network/Infrastructure/MIS Cybersecurity727,954.00Direct Program Expense
Pending and Approved Applications - NEPA/CHIRP351,900.00Direct Program Expense
Assistance to Airport Authority (2 Years)328,121.00Revenue Loss
Assistance to Airport Authority (2024)171,196.00Revenue Loss
Reimbursement Estimate for COVID Medical Expenses225,000.00Direct Program Expense
Network/Infrastructure/MIS Cybersecurity172,046.00Direct Program Expense
Network/Infrastructure/MIS Cybersecurity (Prison)67,938.67Direct Program Expense
Greenway Association - Bartram Trail50,000.00Revenue Loss
911 Project (West Schuylkill Ring)3,980,160.06Direct Program Expense
SCMA - Mt. Laurel Water System - Infrastructure Project500,000.00Direct Program Expense
Contribution - Alvernia University100,000.00Revenue Loss
Contribution - Penn State University100,000.00Revenue Loss
Housing - Schuylkill Haven High Rise500,000.00Direct Program Expense
Non-profit Program - Needs Based500,000.00Direct Program Expense
Total ARPA Spent9,011,161.78

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4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Tootsie

    February 27, 2024 at 10:00 am

    Excellent article, Canary! Things will get interesting for sure, especially since they seem to be spending money like there’s no tomorrow.

  2. Tammy Saltzman

    February 27, 2024 at 10:38 am

    Thanks for exposing the budget, before Larry Padora the budget was a secret.
    The county needs an adjustment of spending .

  3. insider

    February 27, 2024 at 2:10 pm

    Will Boots still get money for his farm????

  4. PTFloridian

    March 3, 2024 at 9:50 am

    The once robust and flourishing Schuylkill County has been decimated with blight, empty storefronts, and a different type of residency, with a different set of values and maintenance…there is hardly anyone remaining in nice, well maintained homes and/or businesses to absorb the increases in living, as the careless and such pile furniture and garbage on their property, while collecting welfare and exhausting government programs and healthcare…

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