2017-09-09 / Front Page

State budget gaps trouble counties

Concerns about the impact of the state’s fiscal 2017-18 budget on Potter County are growing as lawmakers in Harrisburg continue their stalemate on how to pay for the underfunded $32 billion plan.

Some of the proposed remedies could hit hard in rural counties.

These issues were discussed at last week’s meeting of the Potter County Board of Commissioners, who have met recently with both State Senator Joe Scarnati and Representative Martin Causer. They stressed the negative impact any tax increases would have on local residents, who would have to foot the bill for underfunded state mandates.

Commissioner Paul Heimel reported that the lawmakers both acknowledged the Pa. General Assembly is deeply divided on whether to make cuts in services, raise the state’s sales tax and other levies, or both.

“A lot of things are in jeopardy as they try to figure out how to pay for it,” said Heimel. “Our emphasis was that the state should not balance its budget on the backs of county taxpayers.” “Some of the revenue options are not very palatable to many people,” he added, “Among these are expanding legalized gambling through slot machines in bars and clubs, raising the state’s 6-percent sales tax, levying a severance tax on natural gas drilling and others.”

The stopgap budget passed by the legislature did not address a $1.5 billion deficit from the year before or a projected $700 million shortfall in the 2017-18 plan.

Also at last week’s meeting, Commissioner Doug Morley, who serves as the county’s director of emergency services, reported that an Elk County hazardous materials response team that has been contracting with Potter County is disbanding. The board approved Morley’s proposal to retain ILM Services, which also serves Cameron and McKean counties.

Morley also presented a lease agreement with T-Mobile Northeast for use of a communications tower the county owns in Austin Borough. The commissioners approved the plan, which includes a $2,200 monthly rent payment for five years, totaling $132,000.

Also at last week’s meeting, Commissioner Susan Kefover reported on a recent meeting of the Coudersport Downtown Marketing Committee that she attended.

Among suggestions were holding a business plan writing contest to award seed money to help the winner launch a downtown enterprise, and conducting another round of “staging” empty storefronts to attract new businesses.

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