SUNBURY — Noting her concerns with the $6 million budgeted for the Northumberland County Prison in 2019, Democrat Kym Best was the lone commissioner to vote against the county’s proposed $76.4 million budget on Tuesday.
The budget, which does not have a tax increase, is considerably less than the 2018 $94.6 million budget. Steve Cook, the county’s budget director, said the 2018 budget included costs associated with the construction of the new prison in Coal Township, as well as upgrades to the county’s 911 system. The 2017 budget was $81.2 million.
The commissioners are expected to adopt the final 2019 budget at a meeting scheduled for 1 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 27.
Prior to the former prison catching on fire in January 2015, Best said the prison’s budget was $4.3 million.
“You are looking at almost a $2 million difference” for 2019, she said.
In addition, Best said $3 million that was borrowed earlier this year by the county was used to balance the budget.
She said she believes the numbers reflected in the 2019 budget are accurate; however, she said she could not vote for the budget since it used borrowed money to balance it.
“I’m very pleased with the way (Cook) came up with the numbers, but at the end of the day, it’s $2 million more than we’re used to,” she said.
Best also voted against the previous two budgets adopted by the current board of commissioners.
Republican Commissioner Chairman Rich Shoch, responding to Best’s comments, said the $3 million was borrowed to complete the county’s 911 project and to cover costs related to the prison fire that were not covered by insurance.
Medical costs jumps
Republican Sam Schiccatano said the budget is nearly the same as it would have been if the county had opted to build a new prison on land the county purchased in Sunbury.
He said PrimeCare Medical, which provides medical care for inmates, increased its fees to the county from $30,000 per month prior to the fire to $91,000 now.
“They are saying the cost of prison medical care has gone up since then,” Schiccatano said.
He plans to meet with representatives from PrimeCare later this month in an effort to renegotiate the fee.
Schiccatano noted health insurance for all county employees will be increasing in 2019, also adding to the increase in the prison budget.
Overall, Cook said the county will be paying $1.4 million more in 2019 for medical benefits for Northumberland County’s 234 employees.
Schiccatano said a committee will be meeting monthly to assess the 2019 prison budget.
Average about $388
While the proposed budget does not have a tax increase, Cook said millage for the general fund will remain at 23.733, while the debt services millage will remain 6.485. One mill is equal to $750,000.
Cook also noted the average assessed value for a home in Northumberland County is $16,353. At that value, Cook said a homeowner would pay $388 in county taxes.
Voting machine costs
It was noted during the meeting the budget does not include funding for a state mandate passed down on counties to purchase new voting machines in 2019.
Schiccatano said the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania (CCAP) will be sending a committee to negotiate with Gov. Tom Wolf to either allocate more funds to cover the purchase of the machines, or to push back the deadline to purchase the machines.
“We were only going to get $14,000 (from the state to purchase new machines),” Best said. “The machines we were looking at were almost $1 million. That’s a big concern at budget time.”
The following appointments and reappointments were approved during Tuesday’s meeting: Ed Christiano, to the Northumberland County Recreation Commission, five-year term, beginning Jan. 1; Joseph Klebon, to the Northumberland County Recreation Commission, four-year term, beginning Jan. 1; William Geise, to the Northumberland County Agricultural Land Preservation Board, three-year term, beginning Jan. 1; Mary Crone, to the Northumberland County Agricultural Land Preservation Board, three-year term, beginning Jan. 1; Richard Daniels, to the Northumberland County Agricultural Land Preservation Board, one-year term, beginning Jan. 1; Lisa Hoover and Robert Hormell, to the SEDA-COG Joint Rail Authority, for five-year terms, beginning Jan. 1.