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Franklin County needs $6 million to improve voting system, 911 center & jail

Written by Jim Hook/The Chambersburg Public Opinion | Oct 24, 2018 4:55 AM
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A voter casts his ballot on primary election day, Tuesday, May 16, 2017 in Chambersburg. (Photo: Markell DeLoatch, Public Opinion)

(Chambersburg) -- Franklin County homeowners will see their county real estate taxes go up in 2019, but no more than what was expected to pay for a new courthouse.

County commissioners have said all along that taxpayers would see a 1.5-mill increase in 2019 to pay for a $67 million project to build a judicial center and administration building. That's about $30 a year to the average homeowner.

Commissioners on Tuesday gave direction to county administrators for the 2019 budget. They aim to increase the debt service from 2.6 mills to 4.1 mills and hold the tax rate for general operations at 25 mills. The total tax bill would be 29.6 mills. Some communities also pay a 1 mill county library tax.

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The county, however, will struggle with three big ticket items in 2019. Department managers need:

  • $900,000 to replace voting machines;
  • $1.6 million more for the 911 center;
  • and $3.3 million more for jail operations.

Public safety a priority

To balance the $40 million general fund budget next year, commissioners expect to roll the $2 million savings anticipated from the 2018 budget into 2019 and to take some money from the county's $3 million capital fund.

"Since I've been here we've outperformed our budget," fiscal director Teresa Beckner said.

Technology has also helped the county reduce its expenses by relying less on administrative assistants and other positions, according to Commissioner David Keller.

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Daniel Nussbaum works in the Franklin County Emergency Services building on Wednesday, April 25, 2018. Franklin County plans to work with Adams and Dauphin counties to share radio emergency systems. (Photo: Markell DeLoatch, Public Opinion)

Keller directed county staff to make public safety a priority in its budget decisions.

The county will conduct an audit to identify improvements that are needed at the jail, according to county administrator Carrie Gray. Maintenance on the 11-year-old jail and upgraded surveillance are proposed.

Commissioner Robert  Ziobrowski said he wants to see a cost-of-living increase "to make sure our employees don't fall behind."

Raises based on the consumer price index would amount to about 2 or 3 percent.

The increasing cost of health care is expected to come in under 7 percent, according to Beckner.

The county's share of the employees' pension fund in 2019 is estimated between $2.2 million and $2.4 million, up from $2 million in 2018. The county's investment strategy in recent years has reduced the county share from $3 million, according to Keller.

Managers have asked for 27 additional employees in 2019. The state would pay most of the salaries of the 12 workers proposed for Children and Youth Services. Commissioners must approve any additional staff.

MoreKeller: County jail crowding is "not a crisis"

MoreFranklin County Jail costs millions more each year, driving up deficit

 

'Unhackable' voting machines must go

Russia's attempted hacking of U.S. voting system is impacting the county budget.

The Pennsylvania Department of State is prepared to decertify all election systems in the state, commissioners said. Commissioners had figured the county's system would be exempted because it is "virtually unhackable" and uses paper ballots. State officials about two weeks ago told the county its system would have to go.

"I have an issue with the mandate from the state," Commissioner Robert Thomas said. "Some of this smells."

"Unfortunately this appears to be one-size fits all," Ziobrowski said.

Commissioners bought the current voting system in 2006 with a large grant from the federal government. This time there's no state or federal dollars.

"We do have an aging infrastructure, but we have a few more years to get out of it," Thomas said.

The county had been replacing about five machines a year. With a new system the county must buy nearly 100.

The system would be in place in time for the 2020 presidential primary election, Keller said. He prefers installing the system a year later, when voter turnout would be lighter.

911 center needs more than temporary fix 

Decisions at the state level also hit the county's emergency dispatch system.

The cost of operating the 911 system faces a shortfall of about $700,000. The legislature in 2015 came up with a temporary fix for the rising cost of county 911 systems: They increased the surcharge on wireless and landline telephones. A formula based on population, call volume and other factors divided the revenue among the counties.

More: County: Franklin-Adams-Dauphin regional 911 system could save millions

A permanent fix was to be developed in 18 months, but never was, Keller said.

"The temporary formula is not working for us," Thomas said.

The 911 center also needs $909,000 to stay on the path of compliance for communicating with "next generation" devices such as video, according to commissioners.

A preliminary budget is to be presented to commissioners at 2:15 p.m. on Nov. 20.

This story comes to us through a partnership between WITF and The Chambersburg Public Opinion. 

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