State, county officials speak at Phoenixville chamber

PHOENIXVILLE - Phoenixville Regional Chamber of Commerce members heard updates about the state budget and county programs during the monthly breakfast on Tuesday.

The chamber's special guests were State Rep. Warren Kampf (R-157) and Chester County commissioners Terence Farrell, Kathi Cozzone and Ryan Costello.

Former chamber president Frederick Hubler Jr., who served as the emcee, explained that several years ago, the chamber sent a survey to members and found that many wanted to learn about local, state and regional government issues through the chamber.

Kampf discussed the $27 billion 2012-2013 state budget which he called 'fiscally responsible.'

He talked about what the spending has been like in the past 10 years and explained the reasons behind larger budgets in the past.

'Spending in our state capital for our state budget went up by about 40 percent, almost double the state of inflation,' he said. 'The state budget back in the early 2000s was $20 billion and two years ago it was above $28 billion. Those were significant increases.'

Kampf said spending increased because for several years no money was placed into pension funds.

The stimulus funds for Pennsylvania totaled about $7 billion and that money was gone about two years ago, he said.

State revenues have declined since 2008, but spending has not declined, Kampf said.

The budget reflects a 1.04 percent increase last year's expenditures, he said.

He pointed out the benefits of the budget including no tax increases.

Next year is the last year for the stock and franchise tax which affects businesses.

'I believe we are making Pennsylvania better for our job creators than it was,' Kampf said.

A tax credit is available for each new job in Pennsylvania.

Another positive aspect of the budget is the increase of the Educational Improvement Tax Credit.

'This is something that the Phoenixville Education Foundation and many educational foundations benefit from to help students who may not have the advantages of some others,' Kampf said.

In addition to education funding, Gov. Corbett also had planned to cut funding for county human services programs, he said.

'We restored about $84 million of what was proposed (to be cut),' Kampf said.

Farrell shared his opinions on the state of the county and said the county is in 'good shape relatively.'

Residents haven't seen a tax increase in three years from the county, he said.

Chester County is also still the wealthiest and healthiest in the Commonwealth, Farrell said.

The county has a $420 billion operating budget and the commissioners use a strategic plan that helps them prioritize how them spend it, he said.

Farrell also mentioned various county projects including building a training center in Coatesville so first responders don't have to travel outside of the county for training. The center is expected to cost at least $10 million.

Another project is replacing the 9-1-1 radio system. Farrell said the old system is obsolete. Replacing the system will cost $55 million to $60 million.

The county had asked municipalities to support the project by charging a per capita fee to fund the 9-1-1 system.

'The county is asking municipalities to help us with the capital cost rather than the operating cost,' he said.

Cozzone continued to speak about what's been going on at the county level. She said the county has an employee wellness program and she encourages other businesses in the county to do the same because it not only helps to save money with health care costs, but it can help to save a life.

Cozzone said during a blood pressure screening, one employee was sent to the hospital for low blood pressure and another was sent to the hospital for high blood pressure.

Unemployment is still an issue in the county. Cozzone said about 15,000 people are unemployed.

Last year, a program was held for the unemployed and more than 400 people attended. Now about 100 people that attended the program have jobs, Cozzone said.

The county has continued to support Phoenixville with community revitalization by staying committed to the strategic plan.

Costello and Cozzone said Phoenixville has received more than $5.5 million for community revitalization.

Costello said the county investing money in Phoenixville is a testament of the leadership and of the town. He said even if people don't live in Phoenixville, they benefit from the revitalization when they come into town for various reasons.

Costello also mentioned the economic challenges the county has been facing.

'Due to assessment appeals, we're losing a half a million dollars in revenue,' he said.

Costello said the county has 2,600 employees and it needs to put money into pensions each year.

'About $275 million in assets gets invested,' he said. 'When we don't get a 7 or 8 percent return on that money, we need to take money out of our surplus every single year to fill that gap.'

Costello said the county is working on reducing costs 'without compromising the quality of services.'

To help economic growth, the county passed Local Economic Revitalization Tax Assistance Act, he said.

The act can be beneficial for areas along routes 724 and 23, Costello said.

'The (Local Economic Revitalization Tax Assistance Act) states that if you were to knock down a building and rebuild or put an addition on a building, the first year after construction, you will pay no taxes on the increased evaluation on that property,' he said. 'In year two, you'll pay 90 percent and year three you will pay 80 percent. It's a 10-year cycle and it's phased out. The intent is for encourage people to build in certain areas with the thought it will create jobs and over time it will increase the real estate evaluation and will lead to more real estate revenue for that municipality, the school district and the county.'

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