County aiming to hold line on taxes

County officials are trying to avoid raising taxes and laying off workers for the second consecutive year, as they work on the 2013 budget .

“I intend to make sure the budget doesn't have a tax increase,” Commissioner Chairman Rob Loughery said Monday. “I am hopeful that based on actions we took this year, we won't have additional layoffs, but we can't be sure until we get through additional adjustments to the budget.”

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Commissioner Chairman Rob Loughery said he intends "to make sure the budget doesn't have a tax increase." (Bucks County)

The county has laid off 24 workers this year, and has cut about  200 other positions through a hiring freeze, retirements, and attrition Next year’s budget will reflect those full savings, at an average of $85,000 per employee for wages and benefits, Finance Director David Boscola said.

“We’re looking OK. We have some tweaking to do,” Boscola said. “I hope the budget will be the same” as the one adopted last December.

That $461.7 million budget contained a 1.3-mill tax increase. For the owner of a house with the county's average assessment of $35,900, the tax increase cost $45, for a total of $835.

This year’s tax hike was the first increase in six years. The county’s rainy-day fund had been used to keep taxes steady, but the fund has dwindled from $73 million in 2008 to $48 million this year.

The 2013 preliminary budget is scheduled to be made public Nov. 21 at the traditional pre-Thanksgiving Day session at the county Courthouse.

Last year’s preliminary budget contained a $24.3 million shortfall that was covered with about $10 million from the tax hike, $6 million in labor savings, and other spending cuts and revenue increases.

It’s too early to tell the size of the shortfall in the preliminary budget for next year, officials said.

There are a “few unknowns” that must be accounted for, Boscola said, such as contributions to workers’ pensions and expiring  contracts of the major unions, including the Operating Engineers and AFSCME.

Non-union workers agreed to a pay freeze this year.