Bradford County's $8.4M impact fee allotment arrives
TOWANDA - It's anticipated that there will be no increase in Bradford County's property tax rate this year, the chairman of the Bradford County commissioners said on Thursday.
In fact, the two Republican Bradford County commissioners, Daryl Miller and chairman Doug McLinko, have said they would like to use most of the county's 2012 allotment of impact fee revenue to eliminate the county's debt, which would reduce the county property tax rate by .65 mils, or 6 percent.
Asked Thursday whether there were increased expenses in other areas that might cause an overall county property tax increase this year, McLinko replied: "There is no tax increase set (anticipated) for this year."
Bradford County's 2013 budget, which is still being worked on, will be available for public review on Nov. 30. The commissioners are scheduled to adopt the budget and set the county property tax rate for 2013 on Dec. 20.
At Thursday's meeting of the Bradford County commissioners, McLinko said the county has received its $8.4 million impact fee allotment for 2012. He said the county has deposited the money into a savings account at a bank.
The county will be receiving next year's allotment of impact fee revenue, which is estimated to be approximately $7 million, in July 2013, the commissioners said.
The commissioners said they have received a lot of requests for using the county's impact fee allotments. McLinko and Miller said the commissioners will be having serious discussions on how to use the impact fee money, a decision they said they do not need to make right away.
Bradford County Commissioner Mark Smith said he wants to use the impact fee revenue to address the impacts of the natural gas industry and to encourage further economic development in the county.
At Thursday's meeting, former Bradford County Commissioner Janet Lewis said the actuary of the Bradford County Employees' Retirement Board is telling the Bradford County commissioners to contribute an estimated $2.7 million to the county's pension fund in 2013, and she suggested that the county use some of its impact fee revenue to pay the contribution.
The contribution would be much higher than the $200,000 that the county contributed to the fund in 2012, said Bradford County Fiscal Director Joan Sanderson.
The increased contribution would be a one-time fix, allowing the county to "catch up" to where it needs to be, in terms of its contributions to the fund, Lewis said.
In an interview after the meeting, McLinko said the amount the county will contribute to the fund in 2013 will be less than what the actuary is recommending, although he said he did not have the exact amount on hand.
However, both McLinko and Bradford County Fiscal Director Joan Sanderson said it would not be necessary for the county to contribute the full amount that the county's actuary, Henry Stiehl of Hay Group Inc., is recommending.
"The pension fund is doing well," Sanderson said. Not contributing the amount recommended by Stiehl "does not put the retirement fund in jeopardy," she said. In 2013, the county's pension fund will make all its payments, and they will be made on time, she said.
It is up to the Bradford County commissioners, who are the three members of the Bradford County Employees' Retirement Board, to determine how much the county contributes each year to the pension fund, Sanderson said.
The amount recommended by the actuary is only a "suggestion," McLinko said.
The county's pension fund is "very healthy," and is in "no danger whatsoever," McLinko said. Bradford County's pension fund is in "solid shape" compared to other county pension funds across the country, he said.
In terms of its financial health, Bradford County's fund is at or near the top of county pension funds in Pennsylvania, he said.
While the amount of money in Bradford County's pension fund had dropped to $28 million in 2008, it is now at $44 million, McLinko said.
The amount in the pension fund is at approximately the same level it was at before the nation's 2008 financial crisis, Sanderson said.
McLinko also said that the contribution that the actuary was recommending was an amount that would be needed to meet the retirement fund's obligations "if the county government ceased to exist" at this time, which he said is a very unlikely scenario.
But Lewis said the contribution recommended by the actuary would also be needed if there were a large number of county employees who decided to retire all at once at this time.
However, Sanderson said after the meeting that if a large number of employees decided to retire at this time, the pension fund would still be in "fine" shape.
Over the last two years, the amount that the actuary has recommended the county contribute has been about the same as the recommended amount for 2013, Sanderson said.
McLinko said it has been "decades" since the county contributed to its pension fund at the level recommended by its actuary, because the county's investments have generally done well.
Bradford County Commissioner Mark Smith questioned whether, under state law, the county would be allowed to contribute impact fee revenue into the pension fund.
Act 13, the law that created the impact fee, "has some specific uses" for how the county can use the impact fee revenue, Smith said. "I'm not sure (impact fee revenue) would fall into any of those (categories of allowed uses)."
James Loewenstein can be reached at (570) 265-1633; or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.