2017-01-10 / Local

Sullivan County property tax going up by 6.6 percent

BY JAMES LOEWENSTEIN

Staff Writer

LAPORTE — The county property tax rate in Sullivan County is increasing by 6.6 percent for 2017, but this year residents enrolled in the county’s homestead exclusion program will again see a $100 reduction in their county property tax bill.

The main reasons for the tax increase are needed repairs that are being done to several county-owned buildings and a reduction in the amount of revenue that the county receives from the Act 13 impact fee, said Brian Hoffman, chairman of the Sullivan County commissioners.

“The bulk of the reason for the tax increase is that we needed to generate some additional revenue because three different county-owned properties all required some infrastructure repairs at the same time,” Hoffman said.

At their Dec. 27 meeting, the Sullivan County commissioners set the 2017 county property tax rate at .00405 mills, which is 6.6 percent higher than the .0038-mill rate that was in effect for 2016, he said.

The most expensive improvement is an ongoing $699,000 upgrade to the HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) system at the Sullivan County Courthouse, where most county government departments are located, Hoffman said, adding that the new board of commissioners began planning the repairs at the courthouse shortly after they took office in January 2016.

According to Hoffman, the courthouse’s fuel-oil boilers, which were installed in 1976, have outlived their service life and are being replaced with propane-fueled boilers.

The boilers have deteriorated to the point where the company that maintains them has been reluctant to clean the boilers’ fireboxes, where the combustion occurs, “out of concern that the fireboxes would break,” he said.

Through their research, the commissioners knew they also needed to replace the courthouse’s chiller, which dates back to 1993 and which had surpassed its expected service life, he said.

Then, last summer, the chiller failed, leaving the courthouse without air conditioning for a short period of time, at which time the chiller was replaced, too, Hoffman noted.

“I don’t think it was more than a week” that the courthouse was without air conditioning, he said.

The HVAC project also includes an upgrade of the courthouse’s dated electronic control system.

“(New) electronic control systems have drastically improved technology,” Hoffman said. “It needed to be modernized.”

As part of the courthouse’s upgrade, insulation was installed in a couple of areas of the building that were losing a lot of heat and cool air, motion detectors were installed that will shut off a room’s lights if the occupant forgets to manually shut them off, and more energy-efficient lighting was installed inside the building, he said.

“This courthouse will consume substantially less electricity and fuel” because of the upgrades, he said.

Because 49 percent of the courthouse’s square footage is used for judicial offices and functions, revenue from the Act 13 impact fee is paying for approximately half of the upgrade at the courthouse, he said.

Because the upgrade will substantially improve the building’s energy efficiency, the county was able to tap $100,000 from the Northern Tier Solid Waste Authority’s Stewardship Fund for the project, he said.

A total of $250,000 in revenue from the county property tax is also being used to pay for the upgrade at the courthouse, he said.

The HVAC project is being done by Trane, a division of Ingersoll Rand, which is guaranteeing that it will result in a certain amount of energy savings for three years, Hoffman said.

The second project that will be done is the replacement of the roof at the Sullivan County Library in Dushore, which had been leaking, he said.

At the Sullivan County Industrial Complex in Mildred, also known as the Mattern Building, the roof at the top of the walls needs to be recapped, because water has been leaking in places into the walls, causing metal door frames to rust, he said. The project will address the damaged door areas and will also include repairs to the building’s parking lot, Hoffman said.

In 2016, homeowners enrolled in the county’s homestead exclusion program received a $100 reduction on their county property tax bill, and they will again receive a $100 reduction on their county property tax bill in 2017, Hoffman said.

The reductions in county property taxes are funded by revenue from the Act 13 impact fee.

“We have enough revenue from Act 13 to continue to provide the homestead exclusion,” Hoffman said.

People who own a home in Sullivan County that is their primary residence are eligible for the homestead exclusion.

Homeowners will pay an additional $2.50 in property taxes in 2017 for each $10,000 in assessed value of their property, according to the county assessment office.

In Sullivan County, homes are assessed at 100 percent of their market value.

James Loewenstein can be contacted at (570) 265-2151 ext. 1633; or email: jloewenstein@thedailyreview.com.

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