Crawford County will see property taxes rise in 2019 after a unanimous vote by county commissioners on Thursday.

The current millage of 19.1 will see a 14.4 percent increase to 21.85 mills. With the tax increase, the county real estate taxes on a property with an assessed value of $25,000 goes up by $68.75 — from the current $477.50 to $546.25.

The final millage increase of 2.75 was divided up as 2 mills for general operating expenses, 0.65 mills to keep up with loan payments on the new judicial center next door to the courthouse and 0.10 mills as a direct pass-through to fund the county library system.

The commissioners trimmed around $800,000 from the budget in two major rounds of cuts to prevent reliance on cash reserves and to keep the tax increase lower than originally anticipated. Commissioner Chairman Francis Weiderspahn noted that taxes hadn't been raised since 2011 other than a small increase to pay for the judicial center.

The commissioners also approved a tax revenue anticipation note (TRAN) of $6 million from ERIEBANK at an interest rate of 2.9 percent to be repaid in 2019.

The 2019 county budget initially included a tax increase higher than the resolution approved by commissioners Thursday. The budget first proposed was $73.2 million with $33.7 million going toward general county operating expenses. To balance it, commissioners would have had to raise taxes 3.1 mills and wipe $446,000 from dwindling cash reserves.

Six Crawford County residents made public comments during Thursday's meeting. All were supportive of the commissioners' cuts to the budget but critical of the final tax increase.

Commissioner John Amato read a written statement before the vote detailing his reasons for voting yes on the resolution.

"This has been difficult for me because I said from day one, 'I will not raise taxes,'" Amato said. "We as a county can do better. We should do better. I will vote yes, not because I want to, but because, as a leader, I have to own the good with the bad."

Commissioner Chris Soff addressed the decision not to use reserve funds in a separate statement.

"We talk about dipping into our savings account," Soff said. "We can continue to do that, but what that does is provide less dollars for the county to invest. When we invest our savings account, we can get some interest that all goes to do what we can to defray expenses."

Soff also brought up the money-saving idea that the county may no longer run Woodcock Lake Park, leaving it in the hands of the Army Corps of Engineers and the federal government. Moving offices into vacant spaces in the courthouse was also mentioned as a potential cost saver in the future.

Addressing the public gathered for the meeting, Soff said, "We own it. That's our responsibility. I just don't want you to think it's easy to just wave a wand and raise taxes.

"We've got to look people in the eye every day, whether they work here or they don't. These decisions are not made quickly and without an immense amount of thought — what we think is in the best interest of every one of those 86,000-plus residents of this county."

Tyler Dague can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at tdague@meadvilletribune.com.

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