County faces $2.7 million budget shortfall for 2013

Commisioner Chairman Rob Loughery: “I’m optimistic we’ll be able to avoid a tax increase.”

Bucks County is facing a $2.7 million shortfall in its 2013 budget, officials said Wednesday, but they expect to make up the deficit without raising taxes.

“We’re in a lot better position than we were this time last year, when we had a $24.3 million deficit,” Commissioner Chairman Rob Loughery said. “I’m optimistic we’ll be able to avoid a tax increase.”

To reduce the deficit, the county will continue the hiring freeze and staff reductions through attrition that started a year ago, Loughery said. The staff of 2,634 has been trimmed by 245 positions, saving $14 million.   

“We’ll look at reorganizing departments and determine positions that are unnecessary,” he said, declining to name departments that could be affected.

The preliminary budget of $467.4 million represents a 1.2 percent increase from this year’s $461.7 million. It reflects the loss of state aid for Health and Human Services and other departments, and revenue from higher fees charged by the Recorder of Deeds and Health Department, Finance Director David Boscola said.

The fee increases will be outlined during the budget process, he said. Adoption of the final budget is scheduled for Dec. 19.

The preliminary budget does not provide any raises, Boscola said – not for the nearly 2,000 union workers, with most of their contracts expiring as of Jan. 1, or the nearly 400 non-union employees, whose pay was frozen this year.

Commissioner Vice Chairman Charles Martin said he will recommend raises for the non-union employees, who also were hit by an increase in health insurance premiums, and a “small increase” for poll workers.

“The deficit is pretty modest,” Martin said. “We’ll make every effort to avoid a tax increase.”

To balance this year’s budget, the commissioners raised taxes for the first time in six years. The 1.3-mill increase cost the owner of a house with the county's average assessment of $35,900 an additional $45, for a total of $835.

The commissioners also used $1.9 million from the county’s rainy-day fund to help balance this year’s budget. Drawing that amount again would trim the shortfall to $830,000, but it would drop the fund to $42.4 million, from a high of $73 million in 2008.

“If you keep doing that, eventually there will be nothing left,” Boscola said.

The shortfall can be made up by additional staff cuts, reducing expenses, drawing from the rainy-day fund or a combination of those options, he said. 

A public meeting about the budget is scheduled for 6 p.m. Dec. 4 in the county Courthouse in Doylestown.