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No tax increase for Adams County

Once again, Adams County looks good as the commissioners were presented Wednesday with a proposed 2024 budget that will not see a tax raise.

“In this climate of increased cost, to not increase taxes and yet still provide the levels of service we do is very gratifying,” said Commissioner Randy Phiel.

Asked how Adams County can hold the line on taxes year after year, Phiel credited their fiscal management team, which makes collaborative decisions on expenditures, expenses, and bond purchases, and meets regularly throughout the year. The county, which enjoys a strong AA plus fiscal rating, is now at a point where it is looking four years ahead, which is also an advantage when it comes to investment, Phiel noted.

In one sign of caution about the good news, Commissioner Marty Qually said that funding the Emergency Services Department depends partly on whether the current state government approves a phone tax increase to support the expenditure.

“The 911 surcharge of $1.65 on wireless phones is set to expire at the end of this year. This fee has not been adjusted since 2015,” said Qually. “This is the primary funding source for 911 departments.  Counties are urging the legislature to renew the surcharge before it expires and increase it to $2.30,” he continued, adding that Governor Josh Shapiro has proposed an increase to $1.97 monthly.

“If this funding source is not renewed, we may need to raise taxes to cover the cost. Counties do not have the authorization to create their own surcharge.  Since our reserves are healthy, we could weather a delay in the approved surcharge, but that would not be sustainable for very long,” Qually said.

Commissioner Martin said that this issue has an impact on taxes. “Our real estate taxpayers will have to make that up,” he said. “We’re hoping the fee will increase.”

“If the tax option Is not increased or passed,” added Commissioner Phiel, it comes to the county, and the county has to institute the tax increase. That’s the bones and the bottom line. Our legislature does not seem prone to increasing this.”

Monday, the Senate Republican majority voted to defer the increased cell phone 911 tax decision until more research can be done to establish if there are better ways to fund the increasingly expensive 911 call centers. The matter will now go before the full House and Senate, but should it stall, the counties would have to shoulder the cost.

Proposed 2024 Budget

Director of tax services Daryl Crum presented the commissioners with a healthy real property value of $10,006,677,400, an increase of about 1.7 percent over last year.

Melissa Devlin, Director of the Office of Budget and Purchasing, said that the budget process follows a path that begins with a huge wishlist, but then reality settles in, resulting in compromise.

Revenues are projected for the new year at $88 million, with expenditures at $87.7 million. General fund revenues are slightly higher than the previous year’s at $58.8 million, with expenditures at $69.9 million. The difference will comprise the appropriations fund balance ($3.2 million) and the assigned fund balance ($7.9 million).

Revenues come from real estate taxes ($49.2 million), interest income ($868,000), hotel taxes ($3 million), and state funding ($10.3 million). The expenditures help to pay for public and human services and public safety.

“All the services we offer and the quality of the services are important to the county’s welfare,” said Commissioner James Martin. “It gives us great pleasure to do that.

The Capital Budget of $2.5 million will help fund projects such as solar panels on the Human Services building, HVAC replacement units in the Emergency Services building, and an upgrade of hardware and software for the 911 call center. The proposed budget can be found on the county website, and hard copies can be obtained from the commissioners’ office for the next 20 days.

Other Board Business

Mark Clowney, Senior Planner of Rural Development, presented a recommendation from the board to approve the Deed of Conservation Easement for the Paula Frey farm in Mt. Joy Township.

Following the public hearing regarding the purchase, the commissioners approved the sale of the nearly 46-acre farm for about $120,000. The easement purchase money came from the Brown Family Fund established by Tim and Marcia Brown to be used as part of the local match for the Adams County Farmland Preservation Program.

Brown, whose farm was adjacent to the Frey property, was a member of the Adams County Farmland Preservation Board from 1990-2020, serving as chairman from 1998-2020. He was dedicated to farmland and wanted to see the land surrounding his home farm preserved. 

 An additional $256,000 was donated when the Brown estate was settled, which will be used to match state funds in 2024, and $400 was gifted in his honor after his death in February 2023. The Brown donation helped secure additional funds from the state in 2023.

The brown farm produced beef cattle, strawberries, vegetables, blueberries, corn, and soybeans. Commissioner Phiel said. “Brown loved Adams County and gave back to the area in many ways. “And he grew amazing strawberries,” recalled Phiel.

Tax Breaks for EMS Volunteers

Adams County Emergency Medical Services volunteers are one step closer to receiving a real estate tax rebate as the commissioners approved Ordinance 3. Southeastern Adams County Volunteer Emergency Services Administrator Tom Weaver thanked the commissioners for helping implement the program. “I do believe it will be very helpful to our mission,” he said.

Weaver did have questions regarding data collection within county EMS volunteer programs. Solicitor Molly Mudd said each unit can collect data as it best suits them. He also inquired whether there might be a reciprocal arrangement with neighboring counties. “The board has not considered that at this point,” Commissioner Phiel responded, but added it may be considered in the future.

Each volunteer must complete an application that lists their activities between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31 of a tax year. By using a point system that reflects specific volunteer events, applicants must earn 50 points to qualify.

Examples include fire or ambulance calls, one point; training and classes, two to five points; and meetings, two to four points. Scheduled work details earn five points, and fire prevention and public education event participation, three to five points.

The chief or manager of the volunteer fire company or an emergency medical service agency must maintain a log of all credited activities and submit them by Jan. 15 following the immediately preceding tax year.

Kindness Day Coincidence

As Kindness Week comes to a close in Adams County, a coincidence between a commissioner and the creation of a new non-profit organization came to the fore. At the previous commissioners meeting, Kevin Smith was recognized for paying forward an act of kindness in which his wallet was returned, contents intact, only minutes after he realized it was missing. The story caught the attention of local and national news sources. The wallet was returned by Brooke Dubbs, who was transported to Smith’s residence by her friend, Emily Karsteter. Karsteter is Commissioner Marty Qually’s niece, and Qually took a selfie to capture the moment.

Smith, who was unavailable when the proclamation was announced two weeks ago, thanked the commissioners for proclaiming Kindness Week. “I can’t thank you enough for embracing this initiative as you have.” Smith, a graduate of Gettysburg College, says he considers Adams County his second home.

Smith announced the formation of Kindness Worldwide, a non-profit organization he created last Thursday because of the lost wallet incident. The organization’s mission is to encourage good deeds in communities worldwide. At its launch, a representative from Governor Josh Shapiro’s office recognized Kindness Week in Pennsylvania. More information can be found at https://www.kindnessworldwide.org/.

Featured image caption: A kindness story that inspired the creation of a worldwide non-profit organization has a connection to Adams County Commissioner, Marty Qually who took this selfie of himself and Kevin Smith, left. 

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Judith Cameron Seniura is a freelance reporter. She began her journalism career in the early ‘70s and has written for newspapers, magazines, and other media in Ontario, Canada, Alaska, Michigan, Nebraska, San Antonio, Maryland, and Pennsylvania.

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