Lancaster County Board of Commissioners approved a plan last week pausing pay raises for key county officials, including their own positions, until at least 2026.
The plan, unanimously approved at a special commissioner’s budget meeting on Dec. 6, calls for using a new pay raise formula based on the county’s system for providing performance-based raises for non-union county employees. Under the plan, there will be no raises for the three commissioners, sheriff, register of wills, prothonotary, clerk of courts, treasurer and coroner in 2024 and 2025.
The performance-based raises will take effect in 2026 with “80% of the average increase set by the salaried work for non-union county employees” who “meet expectations, exceed expectations or greatly exceed expectations” combined over the years 2024-25. The calculation of 2027 is the same but instead uses the combined years 2025-26 for the expectations.
The commissioners previously set pay raise rates for the controller and recorder of deeds, which also includes no raises for 2024 and 2025.
Commissioner Ray D’Agostino said the plan was previously developed and discussed at a work session on Nov. 29. D’Agostino said it was a “particularly challenging year” to develop a balanced budget that didn’t raise taxes on county residents.
“There are tremendous headwinds, namely inflation and staffing jump that is driving up costs and creating operational challenges,” D-Agostino said. “Again, this is nothing new. It’s not just here in Lancaster County in terms of county government, but every business, every organization, government is facing similar things.”
Patrick Mulligan, budget services director for Lancaster County, gave the highlights of the $288.4 million budget that includes no tax increase for the 10th year in a row. Mulligan said the general fund is $178.4 million in expenditures, leading to a balanced budget and general fund revenues to exceed expenditures by around $228,000 and a general fund balance of $61.6 million at the end of 2023.
The county property tax rate remains at 2.911 mills, with one mill representing one dollar per $1,000 of assessed value. The proposed budget anticipates more than $125 million in revenue from county property taxes.
The budget proposal shows county government spending $10 million more from the general fund compared to the 2022 budget, with Mulligan citing inflation, rising salaries and health care costs as driving the 6% increase.
An increase in interest earnings from federal funds awarded to the county under the American Rescue Plan Act are expected to earn around $6.8 million in interest in 2023, compared to $110,000 from interest in 2022.
Earlier this year, county officials agreed to raise the minimum wage for county workers to $15 per hour and increase salaries for non-union employees found to be making less than their peers in a study. The commissioners also agreed to increase pay for unionized workers.
Health insurance rates for county employees are expected to jump by nearly 39% next year, according to budget materials.
“Health benefits continue to rise, and that’s not a county of Lancaster phenomenon,” Mulligan said. “That’s across Pennsylvania, across the U.S. Health benefits are really going through the roof.”
Commissioners will vote on the budget at its Dec. 21 meeting.