By Melissa Leet
The proposed four-percent tax increase was a hot topic of the regularly scheduled commissioners meeting held Thursday. Many residents attended the meeting to voice their concerns about the effect the increase will have on property owners in the area.
Ron Collins, a life-long resident of Wayne County and a member of the group Patriot Connectors, implored the commissioners to reevaluate the 2013 proposed budget.
Collins said he is "concerned and disappointed that the Wayne County Commissioners will be raising property taxes yet again." The last time taxes were raised in Wayne County was in 2009.
He continued by asking that they "please consider lowering taxes if not this time, the next time."
He also proposed various ways he feels the county could go back and curb the expenses in the just over $28 million dollar budget.
"We are requesting that you adjust tax revenues by an amount that will eliminate the proposed tax increase."
Collins also said they should "then go over the line item expenses and cut" where it is feasible. He also proposed they further reduce budget items for future years.
"We don't have a revenue problem in Wayne County," Collins said, "we have a spending problem" similar to one he feels the state and federal governments also have.
Another concern he raised was how federal and state mandated programs are effecting county budgets. He said the programs "start out being funded" by state and federal funds, but over time that funding is reduced or eliminated; yet the county must keep the program going.
"Show some leadership," he said to the commissioners regarding these mandates.
The increase in property taxes is an element that Collins views as financially strangling residents. "If this keeps going the way it is, we are going to lose our property to tax sales. We can't keep owning property."
"Somebody needs to stand up and stop this trend."
Collins continued: "We are begging you, do not go through with this tax increase. Help us turn this trend around."
"We are looking to you as our elected leaders to stand up and stop this."
Chairman Brian Smith responded to the comments, saying that they share all the mentioned concerns.
Smith said "last year, we cut costs internally, (which) exhibits that it's responsible government here." By making internal cuts, it has allowed the commissioners to not raise taxes in the past three years.
A large expense that must be accounted for is the retirement fund. "We feel as though it is our fiduciary responsibility" to have enough funds to pay that, and that they "are obligated to do it."
"Over the last three years, we've been able to hold our bills and control (the budget) internally" without going to the taxpayers, Smith added.
He also cited the Clean and Green program for loss of property tax revenue and a dramatic decrease in people building homes.
"We're losing revenue all around the puzzle."
Commissioner Wendell Kay said the county, by law, "is required to produce a balanced budget" and pass that budget by Dec. 31 of that calendar year.
Because the county is a six-class county, options like a wage or earned income tax is "not available to us as a county."
On the topic of mandate relief, Kay said "a lot of the programs are not optional" and must be paid for through the county. He also added that the commissioners "have advocated for mandate relief" trough the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania (CCAP). "Our top legislative priority is mandate relief." He also added that, "We want to be part of the solution. There is no mystery about any of us."
Commissioner Jonathan Fritz added that in the county there is a "god given resource under our feet" in natural gas that could provide revenue for the county. He also said the county "is stuck in neutral" with the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) until a vote is made.
"We are being responsible as we can be," Smith said.
Collins responded to the answers given by the commissioners by noting that they "aren't saying you haven't been responsible," but that "more needs to be done."
"We're going to have to get by with less. It can be done and it must be done." He also said that he does not "buy for one second that you can't go into the line items and make cuts."
Carol Santos, resident from Texas Township, said the commissioners need "to look real careful" at the seniors in the area.
"I'm 77, and I had to borrow money to pay for our school taxes and I'm not going to do it again."
The topic of the healthcare provided by the county was also addressed, as it is a large expense. "Being self-funded saves us" between one and two million dollars a year, Smith said. Self funded means that when an employee utilizes health care services, the bill is sent to the county and it is paid directly. "Every time we find a cost advantage, we take it," he added.