BELLEFONTE — The Centre County Board of Commissioners approved a tentative 2015 budget Tuesday, noting that the balanced budget does not call for a tax increase for the fifth consecutive year.

The $80.9 million budget, Chairman Steve Dershem said, breaks down to $73.4 million for the operating budget and $7.5 million in the capital reserve.

“I think (no tax increase) speaks well for previous boards, and this board, being able to hold the line,” Vice Chairman Chris Exarchos said.

According to the budget, real estate tax is the county’s only main source of revenue. Housing and economic development in the county have been in decline since 2005, with 1.23 percent growth in assessed value projected for 2015.

The millage rate has remained at 7.84 for 2015, the budget said. Tax revenue is calculated at $26.3 million, with 1 mill bringing in $3.4 million.

The budget lists three areas of concern: health insurance, pension contribution and the prison. Controlling health care costs has been aided by a three-year contract with Capital Blue Cross, according to the budget, capping the cost increase at 15 percent, or $5.6 million..

“Without this contract,” Financial Management Director Denise Elbell said, “we easily would have been looking at a 30 to 40 percent increase.”

The county also will contribute $1.8 million to the pension fund, the budget said, which is an annual requirement based on a five-year average and factored on the stock market. Previous contributions have run between $1.2 million and $3.1 million.

A significant inmate population increase has raised the correctional facility budget from $5 million to $9 million, Elbell said. The number of county inmates rose from 186 to 220 between 2006 and 2013, according to the budget. That will cost the county $6 million in 2015.

A new gas extraction tax could bring new income into the county, and Commissioner Michael Pipe said this tax is being discussed at the state level by Gov.-elect Tom Wolf.

Act 13, a drilling impact fee enacted in 2012, is expected to bring about $400,000 into the county, Exarchos said. That fee is expected to decline as drilling in the county declines.

Wolf has proposed a 5 to 6 percent extraction fee, Pipe said, which shouldn’t affect Act 13 funds but could allow the state to get some new revenue for the education system or “whatever Harrisburg deems to spend it on.”

Adoption of the final budget is slated for Dec. 16, Elbell said. The tentative budget is expected to be on the county’s website soon., Nov. 18, 2014
By Jeremy Hartley —