Franklin County in good place, says commissioner

PAT FRIDGEN, Echo Pilot

“You wouldn’t want to run your business the way we have to run our county. We are hamstrung by government regulations.” Franklin County Commissioner Bob Thomas told Greencastle-Antrim Chamber of Commerce members at the Oct. 21 breakfast that the three commissioners did the best they could within the parameters they faced.

Franklin County had reached a population of 151,000, and was still growing, Thomas said at Rhodes Grove Conference Center. As a result, the county was classified as a metropolitan by federal standards.

Nevertheless, Thomas, Bob Ziobrowski and David Keller supported initiatives to preserve the rural heritage, which included a partnership with Greene Township to save 11,000 acres as a perpetual green forest area, and a project with Washington Township to set aside 100 acres at Monterey Pass, a Civil War battlefield.

While the commissioners had to raise taxes two mills in 2008 to keep up with mandated pension obligations, and exercise a small bump in 2012, Thomas said real estate tax rates were still among the lowest in Pennsylvania.

“We’re doing our best while maintaining our responsibilities,” he said.

Franklin County had upgraded the 911 communications system, refinanced its bonds for a savings of $3 million, outsourced case management for social services, and sold Falling Spring Nursing and Rehabilitation Center last December. While that was a controversial move, Thomas said the world had changed, and the sale had been the right thing to do.

“That has turned out really well. The new owners are doing things we as a government couldn’t do.”

With courts, crimes and corrections still taking 75 percent of the budget, Thomas said the board was seeking ways for all departments to be more efficient, and the ideas had to come from within. The county had seen a $600,000 surplus in 2013, which he considered significant, and he hoped taxes could remain steady for property owners.