Washington County property taxes remain the same – 2.43 mills – in the 2020 preliminary budget released late Thursday afternoon.
Although the preliminary general fund budget of $98,224,537 is nearly $2.9 million more than last year’s adopted budget, a series of hearings with department heads is likely to lead to a paring down of funding requests.
“There will be changes between the preliminary and posted budgets,” said county Finance Director Joshua Hatfield. “There always are.”
Budget hearings that began Thursday are to conclude Nov. 13, and certified property assessment figures will become available two days later.
Washington County’s budget preparation is a three-part process that begins with the preliminary document. The second stage, known as the “posted” budget, will likely make its public debut on Nov. 27, when it will be available for inspection in the commissioners’ office on the seventh floor of the Courthouse Square office building.
The spending plan the members of the board of commissioners expect to adopt is scheduled for 10 a.m. Dec. 19 in the first-floor public meeting room, also in Courthouse Square.
Commission Vice Chairman Diana Irey Vaughan, the election day top vote-getter who is in line to become chairman of the board next year as it shifts to Republican control, said after Thursday’s commissioners’ meeting she does not anticipate reopening the budget after Jan. 1.
One area that saw a jump in allocations was Common Pleas Court, up by 17%. Hatfield said this was due to the addition of the seventh judge to the bench. Although Judge Traci McDonald Kemp’s salary and benefits are borne by state taxpayers, the office staff and operating expenses are paid by county taxpayers.
The state Legislature approved the seventh judge due to the burgeoning caseload of Washington County Court and the county’s increased population. McDonald Kemp was elected to a 10-year term Tuesday after her appointment by Gov. Tom Wolf took effect in late August.
The county has a multimillion-dollar surplus that includes $17.6 million from the sale of the Washington County Health Center, which was privatized in 2017. The proceeds are “to be used for future purposes and/or projects,” according to county records.
The county’s last tax increase was enacted in 2009 for 2010 bills, but a simultaneous court case resulted in a countywide property reassessment that took effect in 2017.