Clearfield County Approves 2019 Budget With Tax Increase Despite Cuts

CLEARFIELD – Despite staffing cuts and cuts in external appropriations, Clearfield County will see a 2-mil tax increase in 2019.

At a special meeting Thursday, the Clearfield County Commissioners voted to approve the 2019 budget, which sets the county’s tax millage at 25 mills. In a written statement, issued to the media, the commissioners said the 2019 budget is “balanced and provides all mandated services for the citizens of Clearfield County.”

The statement said the budget allocates an additional $500,000 funds for operations at the Clearfield County Jail, along with a $700,000 increase in funds for the courts and court-related departments, including Children, Youth, and Family Services.

“The majority of the increased costs are the result of an increase in criminal activity throughout the county and inmate over-population at the Clearfield County Jail,” the commissioners said in their statement.

“This has been a very difficult budget to finalize and (it) required significant cuts and cooperation from the courts and elected row officers,” the statement said. “Unfortunately, the increased costs driven by crime is something the commissioners have no control over but must deal with. It is unfair to the taxpayers and some of our employees are also suffering as a result.

In order to balance the budget, five employees will be cut. The county will also cut five positions which are presently vacant.

However, Controller Tom Adamson and Prothonotary Brian Spencer had concerns over some of the staffing cuts.

“A lot of the departments look like they made sacrifices but didn’t,” Adamson said.

“I recognize the problems the county is facing, but I’m disturbed by the increase in the jail budget,” Spencer said. He said that all court-related filings will directly affect his office. He said even in the drug-related cases, both of his offices will be affected. He said the Clerk of Courts office handles the criminal paperwork, while the Prothonotary’s office handles the civil cases. He said he is seeing a lot of cases where a parent will be jailed on drug-related charges, which will then cause the second parent to file for custody of any children involved. The custody filings are handled by the Prothonotary’s office.

Spencer said one of the vacant positions which will be cut is a full-time department clerk from his office. He said while he understands the position cannot be filled at this time, he asked that instead of cutting the position, that the commissioners leave the position “on the books” as an unfunded position.

“It’s a lot easier to leave it open than to cut it and try to get it back,” Spencer said. He said his office has presently suspended passport services to the public because his staff does not have the time to process them.

Commissioner Tony Scotto said he does not believe the county can just leave a position “on the books” without funding. However, Adamson said there are presently three court reporters’ positions that have a zero balance.

Adamson said he has concerns about cutting the part-time field assessor in the tax assessment office. He said the only way the county can generate more revenue is to get more taxes by increasing the tax assessments. He said by cutting the field assessor, the county was cutting their ability to generate additional income.

Treasurer Carol Fox spoke about the decision to cut three temporary part-time employees from her department. Fox said those positions were created to help process licenses for doe hunters. She said processing those hunting licenses generated between $12,000-$14,000 in revenue.

“We will continue to issue the doe licenses,” Fox said. “I don’t know how we’ll manage this just yet, we may need to bring in community service workers or we might have to put in a lot of overtime and sleep on the floor.” She said she hopes things will turn around and those positions will be reinstated.

Positions to be cut include a part-time clerk and a part-time field assessor in the tax assessment office; a part-time clerk in the tax claim office; a full-time clerk and two part-time deputies in the sheriff’s office; a full-time clerk in the register and recorder’s office; a full-time planning assistant in the planning office; a full-time secretary in the veteran’s affairs office, a full-time clerk in the prothonotary’s office, and three part-time temporary doe license workers in the treasurer’s office. All cuts are effective as of Dec. 31.

The commissioners estimate that eliminating these positions has saved about $249,792. 

The budget included the following cuts to external appropriations: $60,000 from the Clearfield County Economic Development Corporation/Clearly Ahead; $15,000 for the Clearfield County Cooperative Extension; $10,000 from the Clearfield County Conservation District; $10,000 from the Clearfield County Library Association and $2,500 to the Clearfield County Historical Society.

The budget will also eliminate the Black Fly Program’s $5,800 and the $1,250 from the Headwaters program.

However, the budget does include $190,000 in initial funding for the state-mandated replacement of the county’s voting machines before the 2020 presidential election. The commissioners said in their statement that the funding is made with the expectation that significant money will be provided by the state to help purchase the equipment. Total costs for the new machines are estimated at $750,000 to $1.2 million.

During the salary board meeting, which immediately followed the special commissioners’ meeting, Adamson made several comments regarding some of the proposed items, which were directly related to the budget cuts.

Adamson voted against a request from President Judge Frederic Ammerman to set the salary of the Director of Probation Services at $50,000. Adamson said that while the salary was $5,105.77 less than the previous director, the department still had a budget higher than it was in 2018. He said this position essentially over-sees two other supervisory positions, both which make close to $50,000 annually.

Commissioner Mark McCracken said that this position supervises the entire probation department. He said the two other supervisors Adamson was referring to are the adult probation supervisor and the juvenile probation supervisors. McCracken said they each over-see the separate departments, while the Director of Probation Services over-sees the entire department.

Adamson said there were already two supervisors and the director’s position was essentially a “duplication.”

 Adamson also objected to the changes within the Sheriff’s Department. Adamson said these changes were a “smoke screen.” He said it may look as if the department had made cuts, but it wasn’t the case. The salary board made a motion to collapse two part-time special deputies and a clerk/secretary, while creating a full-time deputy sheriff’s position.

Adamson said the sheriff’s department will still have budget increases, even with the cuts.

“This is not saving the county any money and it will eventually hurt us in the future,” Adamson said.

The salary board voted to approve:

 A request from Judge Ammerman to set the salary of the Director of Probation at $50,000

To set the salary of the Deputy Register and Recorder at $25,000. Due to the retirement of the former deputy, Register and Recorder Maureen Inlow said her department has moved one of the existing employees to that position. Inlow requested that the position of department clerk II in her department be collapsed and that a department clerk III position be created.  Collapsing the three open court reporters’ positions. These positions have been open for three years.  

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