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Let's go for 10, Harrisburg

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It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

In Dauphin County, at budget time, it depends what you choose to focus on.

On one hand, the county commissioners are proposing a ninth straight budget for 2014 that holds the line on taxes. That means the millage rate will remain at 6.876 mills, so someone paying taxes on a $1 million property pays $6,876 per year.

The proposed general fund budget is $187.4 million, which is $6.9 million less than the current budget.

Can we get to 10 years? Maybe.

The county's guaranty obligation on the Harrisburg incinerator will drop to $24 million from $146 million with the sale to the Lancaster County Solid Waste Management Authority. As a result, the county's annual debt service cost will be reduced to $800,000.

The sale is expected to occur days before Christmas.

County officials also have saved an estimated $3.1 million over 10 years by buying 1100 S. Cameron St. for $8.3 million rather than continuing to lease it for drug and alcohol services. In addition, an energy audit and infrastructure upgrades totaling $7 million saved the county more than $664,000 last year.

Over 15 years, the upgrades are expected to net savings of $10 million.

Dauphin County also doubled its 14-acre solar farm recently. Located in Middle Paxton and West Hanover townships, the farm is expected to generate just over 2 megawatts of power — enough to cover almost 40 percent of county electricity needs.

The cost of the county's emergency 911 system remains a challenge as land-line usage has fallen.

So that's the plus side.

It's also a win for city employers and residents that property taxes are expected to remain level in Harrisburg's 2014 budget. The "Strong Plan" is supposed to help balance the city's budget through 2016.

But earned income tax is going to remain at 2 percent over that span. The recovery plan also is yielding increased parking rates, as well as higher water and sewer rates.

So it might be both the best and worst of times right now.

Moving forward, health care and pension obligations are only going to get more challenging come budget time. And let's not forget about state and federal budgets that seem to shrink every year, putting more of the burden for services on county and local governments.

Are the worst of times ahead? We'll see. Investments are being made that should create jobs and drive revenue.

Jason Scott

Jason Scott

Jason Scott covers state government, real estate and construction, media and marketing, and Dauphin County. Have a tip or question for him? Email him at jasons@cpbj.com. Follow him on Twitter, @JScottJournal. Circle Jason Scott on .

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