Budget funds new IL staff

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By Jenny Hartley

Lancaster County's budget is 5 percent higher than last year's, and much of the increase will cover personnel increases in the Panhandle.

County Council will consider first reading of the $30.2 million budget for the 2008-09 fiscal year Monday night. Last year's budget was $28.9 million.

"Most of that's for Indian Land," said County Finance Director Veronica Thompson.

In its current form, the budget calls for no tax increase, but the budget may be revised between first and final reading. It often is.

What's in, what's not in budget?

The county has four new facilities to staff this year, three of which are in Indian Land.

The county needs to fund staff for the Del Webb Library at Indian Land, which is slated to open in early 2009, at $233,0000. The county also needs to fund personnel for the new Emergency Medical Services station at Edenmoor and the new recreation center at Edenmoor in Indian Land.

The county is also funding staff for the Buford recreation center in the new budget.

Lancaster County will also pick up the $100,000 tab for the county's drug court, which will not receive grant funding this year.

"The budget continues basic operations," said County Administrator Steve Willis. "There are a lot of needed expenses that aren't in the budget. But you can quote me on this, I'm going to advocate for a tax millage increase."

The budget that council will see for the first time Monday does not fund new sheriff's deputies or corrections officers, public works or probate court employees, even though officials received justified requests for more personnel, Willis said.

The budget contains no new capital projects, except for 10 new cars for the sheriff's office and three new ambulances for Lancaster County EMS. County employees will not see a raise in the budget in its current form.

Outside agencies, such as Lancaster County Council of the Arts, Palmetto Citizens Against Sexual Assault, Chester-Lancaster Disabilities and Special Needs and The Listening Center, will not receive their usual funding from the county this year.

Budget challenges

Willis said the county faced many challenges in writing the new budget.

There has been a modest downturn in building permit revenue, and the county will also have to budget for the first-time benefits for future retirees.

"Fuel prices have increased – that's been a humdinger," Willis added.

The county also lost tax revenue on Springs Global equipment, with the textile company moving to South America within the last budget year.

"You can't tax what's down in Brazil," Willis said.

But the biggest challenge to build a budget around has been a proposed state law that would not allow counties to collect funds from market-sale values from homes. The law, called Assessable Transfer of Interest, or ATI, has been unanimously passed by the House and Willis expects it to pass in the Senate as well.

"It's impossible to accurately forecast revenue for the upcoming year," Willis said.

Council may not set the millage, or tax, rate until August after it's clear what the Legislature does with that bill.

How much the county may raise taxes is up in the air, Willis said.

Costly projects

Willis and Thompson are also worried about funding a grant match for the Brooklyn Avenue revitalization project. If the county receives a $500,000 federal grant, the county will have to pay $125,000 to match it.

Another costly project in the coming year will be replacing the 47 rotting windows at the historic Lancaster County Courthouse. The cost of this renovation project is estimated at $111,000.

Clerk of Court Jeff Hammond has told officials that if the county receives a blowing rain, water is blown into the courthouse because the windows are in such poor condition.

The windows have to be meticulously replaced, since the courthouse is listed as a National Landmark.

The budget will require three readings to become final.

Council meets at 6 p.m. Monday in chambers on the second floor of the County Administration Building, 101 N. Main St. For details, call 285-1565.

Contact senior reporter Jenny Hartley at jhartley@thelancasternews.com or (803) 283-1151