By Rick Hiduk
(also published in the Rocket-Courier)
Part of a somewhat complicated year-end meeting included the approval by commissioners Judy Mead and Tom Henry of a $14,177,525 budget and a subsequent increase in the tax rate by 1.5 mills. Mead addressed recent comments on social media suggesting that the tax hike is needed to support larger salaries of county employees, as well as increased insurance costs.
“Everything has gone up,” she remarked, noting that the most significant change over previous years is the approximate $500,000 in lost property revenue in the county. “There has been no new construction of commercial buildings,” she added. A number of properties have also be reassessed at lower values.
“We have stayed within our budget, but we have no new sources of income,” Henry concurred, remarking as an aside that he has “lost sleep” over the tax increase, which is the second of an equal amount in two years. Nonetheless, the overall budget for 2019 is almost two million dollars less than 2018’s whopping $16 million.
According to the online source, Tax-Rates.org, the median property tax in Wyoming County in 2018 was $2,050 on a home worth $140,800, ranking the county at number 422 among 3,243 counties nationwide. Wyoming County ranked even higher – number 304 – for the 3.73 per cent of yearly income of its residents that go into the county budget.
In an apparent effort to head off yet another tax increase in 2019, Henry had put “adopt new comp time policy” and “hiring freeze for 2019” on the agenda, but the items were rescinded without any discussion. Henry apologized for the confusion, saying, “We don’t have enough information to make sure that we’re doing it right.”
The interest on the county’s annual tax anticipation note – the money borrowed by the county to pay bills until tax revenue comes in – has risen sharply in recent years from .8 in 2016 to 2.4 percent this year, according to chief clerk Bill Gaylord. The lowest rate was offered once again by People’s Security bank and approved by the commissioners.
Catlin Hollow Bridge Cost Covered by Disaster Funds
Wyoming County emergency management coordinator Gene Dziak was officially appointed as the application agent for disbursement of FEMA and PEMA funds that should allow the county to recoup the full cost of repairs to the Catlin Hollow bridge over North Branch Mehoopany Creek in North Branch Township, as well as a stream mitigation project there.
Dziak, in turn, asked county treasurer Patti Mead to open a new bank account specifically for the deposit of the disaster funds. The account will be temporary and used solely for the return of monies borrowed from the county’s Act 13, Marcellus Transportation, and Liquid Fuels funds that were used in North Branch township.
“I was not anticipating 100 percent,” said Dziak, relating that he and Henry met with FEMA and PEMA officials last week to discuss the funds. “And I’m not holding my breath.”
In a separate order of business, Dziak explained that the county is ahead of schedule on completing necessary documentation of August flood damage for PEMA reimbursements to municipalities. He encouraged municipal leaders to go to the online government portal and submit their damage reports. He also offered to help guide anyone who is having trouble through the process, which Dziak and Henry agreed is much less complicated than it was for the 2011 flooding.
Bridgeview Commons Project Finally Underway
Henry and Dziak went to Nicholson together to check on the progress of a three-unit housing project coordinated by the Wyoming County Housing & Redevelopment Authority (H&RA). While construction was not as far along as they had hoped, they were able to confirm that the modular sections appeared to be set in place. “They are nowhere near completion,” Dziak said of the project.
Henry had received an invoice from H&RA for about one third of the total cost of the project and expressed a concern that paying the bill might leave the county on the hook for unfinished work.
“The county’s on the hook for it anyway,” Mead interjected.
Henry is authorized to sign H&RA documents without consulting the other commissioners, but has previously brought invoices and other requests for his approval to the table for discussion. The meeting was suspended briefly while solicitor Paul Litwin III made a call to H&RA and confirmed that the invoice was solely for the contractors who set the modular units into place.
Treatment Court Graduation Set
President judge Russell Shurtleff, who participated in entire commissioners meeting from start to finish, announced at the conclusion that the next Wyoming/Sullivan County Drug Treatment Court graduation ceremony would be held at Triton Hose Company in Tunkhannock at 5 pm on Thursday, Feb. 28.
“In light of all of the overdoses in the state,” Shurtleff stated. “It’s so wonderful to see people who have reclaimed their lives.”