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The budget for running the Indiana County Court House and county programs and services for 2021 has been put into effect. It provides a property tax increase of almost 9 percent, the first since 2013, and will cost property owners an average of about $49 per tax bill.

The budget was adopted unanimously by Commissioners Michael Keith, Robin Gorman and Sherene Hess, but it didn’t go without protest.

Hess said she went along with the vote for the sake of “moving forward together,” but said a tax increase this year is wrong and that any unplanned expense in 2021 would meet her objection.

The county will raise the property tax by 0.46 mills to 4.905 mills to support $45.2 million of expenses.

But the budget lists $41.5 million of revenue and calls for drawing $3.7 million from reserves to make ends meet.

“While there is no good time for a tax increase, this is just about the worst possible time for one given the state of affairs for the business community, nonprofits, health care, schools and families, especially those who have lost their jobs and or income as a result of the pandemic,” she said.

“I am pledging to examine every proposed expense that is not budgeted, and I will not approve unless there is a compelling reason, such as it is needed to sustain life, or if there is evidence that a return on the investment will be realized.”

Hess said the general loss of population in Indiana County means those remaining have to carry a larger share of the county’s tax burden. She called for the county to ask vendors for better prices and to find more efficient ways to provide core services at current costs.

“The commissioners need to do this in 2021, or we will be in that much worse shape when we plan for the 2022 budget,” Hess said.

In a statement released Wednesday following the commissioners’ late morning meeting, Hess also protested that she didn’t get an opportunity to comment at the time they voted.

Except for reciting the revenue, expenditure and tax rate figures for the general fund, capital fund and liquid fuels fund, Keith offered no comment on the budget.

Hess, who attended the online meeting from off-site, said a technology glitch garbled the streaming video from the courthouse. Chairman Keith ran the meeting in the commissioner’s hearing room with Gorman, solicitor Matthew Budash, Chief Clerk Robin Maryai and others attending in-person.

The commissioners’ meetings held on Zoom since the start of the pandemic often have been marked by muffled audio from the large meeting room in contrast to sharp, clear audio from meeting participants who joined individually on their computers or portable devices.

Staff Writer/Web Editor

Chauncey Ross represents the Gazette at the county courthouse; Indiana Area and Homer-Center schools; Blairsville, Homer City, Clymer, Center and Burrell; and is something of an Open Records, Right to Know and Sunshine Law advocate in the newsroom.