EBENSBURG – Cambria County’s 2019 millage rate was granted approval Wednesday morning by President Judge Norman Krumenacker III.
The 27.5 mills of the county’s 2019 general fund budget is the same rate as last year, but still 2.5 mills higher than the county code allows, which therefore requires court approval.
County Solicitor Bill Barbin told Krumenacker a general fund deficit of more than $8 million in 2016 has been eliminated.
The current board of commissioners entered office in 2016 and, in a split vote, opted to raise taxes by 5 mills to balance the budget for that year.
Krumenacker ultimately approved that tax increase.
In 2017 and 2018, Barbin told Krumenacker the commissioners reduced taxes by a half-mill each year, while making cuts, opting to close the county’s juvenile detention center, refinancing long-term debt and making energy efficiency efforts to reduce expenses.
With its general fund deficit eliminated, Barbin said the county saw a minimal surplus this year.
However, requests for reduced assessed values on properties continue to fluctuate the county’s real estate tax income.
For example, appraisals are underway for two of the county’s cogeneration plants seeking reductions.
The Cambria Cogen plant in Ebensburg has an assessed value of $1.97 million and a market value of about $7.3 million, while the Colver power station has an assessed value of nearly $1.7 million and a market value of about $6.3 million.
Cambria County’s $60 million general fund budget for 2019 is one that could not be balanced with a lower millage rate, Chief Clerk Michael Gelles said during testimony Wednesday.
“The county’s tax base is relatively stagnant,” he said.
The 2019 budget reflects a decrease of about 5 percent from last year’s amended general fund budget, which officials attribute to capital improvements that created savings in county utility bills this year.
But the budget also includes an 8-percent increase for hospitalization in county employees’ health care coverage, along with wage increases of 2.25 to 2.5 percent under union contracts.
Before approving the 2019 millage rate, Krumenacker commended the commissioners’ work to “hold a tight rein” on department budgets, including the courts’ annual spending.
“They have held all of our feet to the fire,” Krumenacker said.