CLEARFIELD – The Clearfield County Commissioners on Thursday approved the 2023 tentative budget that does not reflect a tax increase.
The overall budget is $40,429,399.50, and was balanced with American Rescue Act Funds, said Commissioner Chairman John A. Sobel.
With no tax increase, the county’s millage rate remains at 25 mills. “With the rate of inflation, the cost of living what it is, we just can’t ask our taxpayers to dig any deeper.”
Sobel noted that was a real credit to the diligence and hard work of Controller Rob Edwards, Chief Clerk Lisa McFadden and fellow Commissioner Dave Glass.
Glass deferred most of the credit to the controller, saying Edwards “took ownership” of the county budget and made what has been a challenging process go much more smoothly.
“The budgetary process is an ongoing process,” Sobel said, “and now it will sit for 20 days for public comment and input while we continue our work, and make our tweaks.
“It’s a good budget, I think, that provides well for 2023 but also takes into account some increased expenses that we anticipate in the coming year.”
In the past, the county’s dealt with increased costs related to a high prison population, but now Sobel said inmate medical costs have become a budgetary challenge.
And that’s being compounded by the need for increased mental health services and possibly a medication-assisted drug treatment program, which are still under consideration.
Inmates are generally coming into the jail in an “unhealthy condition,” Glass said, and while inmate medical costs “have always been a problem, it’s becoming more of a problem.
“… They are coming to jail with more needs – more physical needs, more mental health needs but mostly both. Your average inmate is just not as healthy and we have to pick up the tab.”
Glass did note that the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania (CCAP) has some ways to help counties manage these costs, which Glass plans to explore.
Glass also pointed out that some employee contractual changes won’t necessarily “bear fruit” right away, particularly health insurance.
He does expect the county’s spousal exclusion policy will reduce the number of claims in 2023, but not sure by how much, and so the county budgeted based upon current numbers.
Glass said he “fully expects” the 2024 budget to show more of a savings in healthcare, but it’s impossible to predict how much because it’s a “delayed change.”
“Budgets are always our worse-case scenario, you know, like if everything possible could go wrong,” Glass ensured. “It’s what we did last year and it’s what this budget represents, too.”
In a lot areas, Glass believes the county won’t spend near as much as budgeted, but they still “build in” that cushion in the event things would change.
The commissioners were in the same situation last budget season and thought American Rescue Act funds would be necessary to cover expenses “and we never actually used any,” Glass said.
With passage of the tentative budget, it will go on public display at the commissioners’ office and online for 20 days before final approval in December.
Also, on Thursday, the commissioners ratified a memorandum of agreement with the Teamsters and Children, Youth and Family Services employees.
In February Sobel said they had approved a new four-year contract with the CYFS collective bargaining unit, which was the first of six units to settle.
The terms of the original contract included hourly wage increases of $1.10 in 2022, .60 cents in 2023 and .50 cents in both 2024 and 2025.
The other units, including the three that went to arbitration, received hourly wage increases of $2 in year one (retroactive to Jan. 1, 2022), $1 in year two and $0.80 in years three and four.
“… The amounts agreed upon by CYFS weren’t as great as those that were later either agreed upon or awarded to the other bargaining units,” Sobel explained.
“Out of simple fairness and equity, we felt it was necessary to revisit that issue with our CYFS unit, and we were able to successfully renegotiate a new agreement.”
Since the first year is nearly over at this point, the amended contract also included an employee retention bonus to make up the difference.
Because there’s been an ongoing struggle to retain and recruit CYFS workers, Glass said he hopes the agreement helps resolve that issue so they can fully staff the department.
Following arbitration, he said the court-related, court-appointed and residual employee groups were awarded the same hourly wage increases as the other units.
Additionally, their agreements included a spousal exclusion policy and pension changes. The pension changes will not affect existing employees and only new hires beginning in 2023, Glass said.