Ellis’ comments came Tuesday as the commissioners began their department-by-department reviews of proposed 2007 budgets, a process that will take until late next month to complete.

The county this year is operating under a $448-million budget that is funded, in part, by a 2.89-mill real estate property tax expected to generate $158.6 million in revenue.

At that tax rate, a residential property owner, living in a home assessed at the county average of $165,410, is paying $478.04 in county real estate property taxes this year.

Commissioner Ruth S. Damsker said the county also would explore options aimed at becoming more energy efficient, whether these options involve vehicles or buildings.

Despite savings generated by these proposals, the county still is looking at some major financial hurdles, said Ellis, who is overseeing the budget for the first time.

"No one is getting rich working for the county but they do enjoy their benefits," said Ellis. "We are about the last who don’t require contributions for family health care."

The commissioners at this time do not know how much they will have to contribute to the county’s retirement fund for employees. The county this year had budgeted a $4-million contribution but only had to spend about $2 million, according to Ellis.

Part of the problem is that the county is not receiving as much as it had originally anticipated in revenue generated by the 911 surcharge on cell phones. The county initially had believed it would get between $3 million to $3.5 million from this surcharge.

The cell phone providers send the surcharge funds to the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, which then distributes these funds based on an application basis.

For example, the county uses the land line surcharge to pay operating costs and salaries while PEMA wants the cell phone surcharge monies to be used more for capital costs, said Ellis.

A related problem is that the county is generating less money from the landline surcharge because more and more people are using cell phones, said Ellis.

Finally, there likely will be federal and state financial cutbacks for social service programs such as juvenile probation, aging and adult services and mental health/mental retardation.

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