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County commissioners start hearing 2024 department budget requests

Lancaster County Government Center, 150 N. Queen St. (Photo: Tim Stuhldreher)

The Lancaster County commissioners have begun the annual process of considering department heads’ requests for next year’s budget.

On Tuesday, they heard from administrators overseeing four departments: The County Prison, Board of Elections, Sheriff’s Department and Information Technology Department.

The 2023 budget left property tax rates unchanged for the 10th year in a row at 2.911 mills. Commissioner Josh Parsons said earlier this month that he anticipates the same for 2024.

County Prison

The County Prison’s budget was cut during the pandemic, eliminating dollars for expenses that weren’t being incurred at the time, such as training programs and off-site conferences.

However, with operations reverting to normal, those expenses are being incurred again, and they need to be covered, Warden Cheryl Steberger and Director of Administration Arla Brown told the commissioners.

They total around $277,000 and include de-escalation and use of force training; conferences on negotiation techniques and gang issues; uniform and laundry costs; and the cost of replacing damaged mattresses.

Brown said that so many mattresses are being destroyed on a regular basis that the prison is looking at buying non-destructible ones.

One cost driver is recent wage increases. Steberger has been working to increase prison staff numbers in order to reduce overtime costs. She said she anticipates starting 2024 with a shortfall of about 30 employees.

“It’s always been a struggle to keep up,” she said.

Overall, the prison’s proposed 2024 budget is $29.1 million, up 12% over 2023.

“If you had to reduce, where could you?” Commissioner John Trescot asked.

“I think we only capture what our true needs are,” Brown said.

Commissioner Josh Parsons suggested they work with budget services to look at what they can save on.

“I think it’s really a matter of figuring out where you can cut something and bring it more back in line,” said Commissioner Ray D’Agostino said. Some of the budget items to be restored could be phased in over a number of years, he suggested.

Board of Elections

Christa Miller, chief elections clerk, said her department is eyeing its needs for 2024, a presidential election year.

Her budget calls for raising poll workers’ pay to be more in line with other counties. Election clerks would receive $150, inspectors would receive $160 and judges would receive $200.

“It makes sense to increase the poll worker pay,” said Parsons. “You don’t want to be short on poll workers.”

Some costs are hard to estimate accurately, Miller said, such as overtime and temporary staffing.

“It’s hard to compare back to the 2020 election,” she said.

The commissioners noted the department’s figures are around $161,000 over its appropriation. They suggested Miller could make use of the county’s Capital Improvement Program and the state Election Integrity Grant to bring the two figures into alignment.

Miller is looking to replace plastic carts for voter materials with new welded, locked carts. Those would be covered under the Election Integrity Grant, she noted. As a capital cost, they could be budgeted under the Capital Improvement Program, Parsons and D’Agostino suggested, which would take them out of the equation for annual budgeting.

Sheriff’s and IT departments

The commissioners looked at the high cost of extradition for prisoners as a major cost driver in the sheriff’s department budget. Normal annual costs might be around $40,000; but due to the need to fly prisoners being extradited, as mandated, the costs are coming in more around $300,000.

Steven Clements, the county’s Chief Information Officer from the information technology department, noted increased costs in the IT Department, including $75,000 for cybersecurity and around $34,000 to replace 200 monitors as part of a program to make them compatible with new devices.

He said the legacy monitors were nine years old and breaking down.