The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Editorials

December 11, 2013

It's a crime; Somerset Co. taxes to rise | Unlawful activity blamed for spike

JOHNSTOWN — Somerset County residents got an unwelcome early Christmas present: word that real estate taxes will be going up by 22 percent next year.

County commissioners voted last week to raise taxes by 21⁄2 mills, meaning that the average county taxpayer with a home assessed at $50,000 will see their taxes jump from $544 per year to $669. Taxes on homes assessed at $75,000 will increase by $187.50.

That’s a big hit for the people of a county that consistently ranks as one of the poorest in Pennsylvania.

It’s a fine line that commissioners must walk. They held the line on taxes each of the past two years, but with the budget swelling 1 percent to $41.9 million, they felt increasing the millage rate was the only option.

Instead of a few small increases, homeowners will get one big one. We hate to see any tax increases, but we do understand that the commissioners could not continue to draw from the reserve account, as they did each of the past two years. In all, $3 million

has been taken from the rainy-day fund. That’s a practice that could not continue.

“No one wants to raise taxes,” Commissioner Pamela Tokar-Ickes said. “But we’ve been cutting and cutting and cutting ... and we reached a point where there’s no other choice.”

Part of the tax hike can be blamed, at least indirectly, on a spike in crime in the county. Commissioners John Vatavuk and Tokar-Ickes said that several new positions had to be created to help handle the strain that an influx of drug and other criminal activity has put on the court system.

“Unfortunately, crime doesn’t take a vacation,” Vatavuk said.

The people of Somerset County will be paying the toll that crime is taking on the county for years to come.

 

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