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Berks budget calls for property tax hike, employee pay freeze in 2013

Published On: Nov 15 2012 05:53:28 PM CST
Updated On: Nov 16 2012 05:23:47 AM CST

Berks County residents could be smacked with a tax increase, and county employees could see a pay freeze in 2013 if a proposed budget plan passes.

READING, Pa. -

Berks County residents could be smacked with a tax increase, and county employees could see a pay freeze in 2013 if a proposed budget plan passes.

The potential changes will be hard to swallow, but Bob Patrizio, the county's chief financial officer, said the numbers revealing the county's budget deficit speak volumes.

"To stand before the taxpayers and the commissioners and  recommend a tax increase, this is something I definitely don't enjoy," said Patrizio.

At the commissioners' meeting on Thursday, Patrizio laid out details of the county's $9 million deficit for 2013. The plan, Patrizio said, calls for a 6.3 percent tax increase, the first in eight years. That would mean an added $43.70 per $100,000 of assessed value.

"Our revenues are not keeping pace with our expense, growth in our expenses," said Patrizio.

County officials said the tax increase has been recommended because of investments the county has undertaken, such as the new 911 radio dispatch towers and systems, as well as county facility repairs.

Commissioners Christian Leinbach and Kevin Barnhardt said they support the tax increase because it is a responsible move.

Commissioner Mark Scott, however, said he thinks increasing taxes is not necessary because the county is sitting on more than $90 million in surplus.

"I don't believe eating some red ink for a year will damage our credit rating, bond rating," Scott said. "I'd like to see the outcome of 2013 is and get a better hand on what the uncertainties and how the uncertainties wash out."

A county employee payroll freeze for next year has also been recommended, saving the county $2.1 million, Patrizio said.

Currently, four of the six unions have come to an agreement with the county. The Teamsters and the detectives union have elected to go to arbitration, Scott said.

The county commissioners will vote on budget December 13.