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November 19, 2012

Cambria officials see no tax hike

EBENSBURG — President Commissioner Douglas Lengenfelder said last week that Cambria County will be able to hold the line on taxes for 2013 even though the final bottom line of a proposed budget is not yet inked onto paper.

The commissioners expect to introduce the proposed budget Nov. 27, with it to be open for public inspection no later than Nov. 30, he said.

Adoption likely will be at a special meeting the week of Dec. 17, he said.

They are working with William Stasko, who was hired in June as the county’s finance director, on the new budget after getting input from department heads and row offices.

The budget preparation comes during the ongoing, year-end cash flow crunch in which county Controller Ed Cernic Jr. continues to hold some bills for payment so he can meet payrolls and loan obligations.

As of Thursday, the controller’s office was holding about $1.02 million in unpaid bills – some dating back to September, he said. Cambria was able to meet its $1.2 million payroll on Friday, he said.

However, for the first time this year, the controller said that he had to dip into accounts other than the general fund and borrow $2.1 million to meet obligations.

That money will have to be repaid in 2013 to those accounts, or the county could face adverse findings in its annual audit.

That could affect the county bond rating if allowed to continue, Cernic said.

Making hand motions as if juggling balls in the air, Cernic said that he was looking at all avenues for not only meeting three more payrolls, but also repaying the $5 million still due on the $10 million tax anticipation note that was taken out in January and $1.14 million on other loans/bond issues from previous years.

He pointed out that the county prison revenues – which were anticipated at $3.2 million for the year to help off-set operating costs – were down nearly $450,000 on Oct. 31 from the same time a year ago.

Other counties are not sending as many inmates here to be housed as in previous years, it was reported.

While the controller has suggested that the commissioners need to find revenues to complete this year, Lengenfelder said that the commissioners have not considered a short-term loan because they are not convinced such a step is necessary

The president commissioner did reveal that commissioners may be holding discussions in December with the unions representing county employees on Cambria’s fiscal situation, including the impact of pay raises approved by outgoing commissioners late last year. But, he would not say that concessions would be sought.

Cambria deals with six unions that have 12 labor agreements with the county.

In December, the former commissioners, by a 2-1 vote, approved varying pay raises for 450 workers. Former President Commissioner P.J. Stevens dissented, questioning whether the county could afford them. He said that the raises would cost the county $2.5 million over five years.

While the county’s overall fiscal package this year totals nearly $159 million, the focus is on the general fund, which is supported, in part, by county property taxes.

After the commissioners took office this year, they approved a revised budget that was cut by $628,000 to  $56.2 million for 2012. Additional cuts since have been made, the commissioners have said.

Taxes were held for this year at the previous levy of 29.5 mills – 23.5 for general purposes, 4 for debt service, 1 for the community college and one-half mill each for the county public library system and the county’s Duman Lake Park.

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