Commissioners cut tax hike to 1 mill
January 1, 2013

The Butler County commissioners on Thursday reduced the proposed 2013 property tax hike by 50 percent.

The commissioners unanimously approved a nearly $196 million budget that includes a 1-mill tax hike, which amounts to a $17 increase in the annual bill of the average homeowner.

Several budget changes were made to lower the increase from 2 mills to 1 mill.

Among the reductions is cutting the nearly $5 million annual contribution to Butler County Community College by $333,000.

The commissioners also cut $357,000 from the $1.5 million workers’ compensation fund and moved $900,000 in natural gas drilling impact fees from a $1.8 million contingency fund to the general fund.

Commissioner Bill McCarrier, board chairman, said the proposed budget needed to be pruned further.

“None of us wanted to raise it 2 mills because we didn’t want to burden taxpayers,” McCarrier said.

Commissioner Jim Eckstein agreed.

“I’m very happy with this compromise,” he said.

Commissioner Dale Pinkerton said in an interview the county was forced to increase taxes due to rising expenses.

“I didn’t want to raise taxes at all,” Pinkerton said.

He pointed out the county must administer mandated government programs even when they’re underfunded.

“The state keeps cutting us back,” Pinkerton said.

The 2013 budget increases county taxes from 23.6 mills to 24.6 mills. Of that total, 3.9 mills is dedicated to repay debt.

One mill of tax generates roughly $1.6 million for the county.

The new budget is a roughly $6 million increase from the 2012 budget of more than $189 million.

Chief county clerk Amy Wilson said in an interview the overall budget increase is due to higher expenses and increased costs to provide services.

The 2013 budget covers 14 elected officials, 762 full-time employees, 111 part-timers and 43 seasonal workers.

Although no new jobs are budgeted for next year, the county payroll increases by $1 million. Employee health care costs also rise $800,000.

Eckstein last week proposed various budget adjustments that reduced the proposed 2 mill tax increase to a 1 mill hike.

Some of his suggestions, such as using state gas drilling impact fee money, were incorporated into the final budget.

Eckstein’s other proposals, such as increasing nonunion employees’ contribution to their health care costs, were not adopted.

McCarrier and Pinkerton maintain such changes can be made in coming years.

County Controller Jack McMillin commended McCarrier for suggesting the BC3 reduction.

McMillin said the county could avoid tax hikes next year and beyond by eliminating every year’s fourth quarter payment of $1.2 million to BC3, which has an ample surplus.

“No organization with a $25 million operating budget should be sitting on $12.5 million,” he said.

McMillin said large corporations such as Microsoft and Apple would be embarrassed to have a surplus amounting to half of their operating budgets.

He has argued for years that the county gives BC3 an annual contribution that exceeds the minimum required by law.

McCarrier defended the college’s need to fund new construction and expansion into other counties. He said the college profits from having satellite campuses.

McMillin wasn’t swayed by that argument.

“I haven’t seen a document to support that statement,” he said.

McCarrier asked if McMillin had ever seen a document that refuted the claim.

Pinkerton and Eckstein agreed the college benefits the county.

The commissioners also approved a $7 million tax anticipation note from PNC Financial Services Group in Pittsburgh at an interest rate of 0.94 percent for the first six months of 2013.

The interest rate becomes variable in the seventh month.

A tax anticipation loan is used to pay expenses until tax revenue is collected later in the year. The loan is then repaid.