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Category: Local News

Commissioners Do Not Change Annual Budget

Armstrong County Commissioner Jason Renshaw (on left) explains to residents some of the reasons commissioners decided not to change the 2016 funding plan after all.

by Jonathan Weaver

The new trio of Armstrong County Commissioners announced they were not able to decrease the $21.3 million County budget passed in December as anticipated.

Commissioner Chair Pat Fabian made the announcement one day before commissioners would have been required to start advertising the revised budget. State law requires any reopened county or municipal budget to be passed by February 15.

“The 2016 budget as adopted by the previous (Board of Commissioners) will remain the same,” Fabian said.

Commissioners Jason Renshaw and George Skamai added that a nearly-$400,000 deduction from the Armstrong County Jail budget made a big impact.

“We looked at everything in the budget, and being the situation we were in with the jail and some more things that have come up since that time, we’re kind-of balancing out the equation right now,” Renshaw said. “But, there are some long-term solutions we are looking at. Over the course of the next year or so, you’ll see those things coming into play.”

While the budget still has money set aside for possible at-will employee wage increases, that $100,000 will sit untouched for now.

“It’s in the budget, but we chose not to use it,” Renshaw said. “But, we’re going quarter-by-quarter.

There are a lot of shortfalls so we don’t have the ability to give raises.”

Commissioners also unanimously agreed to restructure the management agreement with Affinity Health Services – which managed the health center since November 2013 – to save money.

Fabian said restructuring the agreement so Affinity only becomes consultants will save the county about $200,000.

Renshaw and the other commissioners will also meet with Pictometry International representatives from Rochester, New York about an upcoming high-tech imaging software contract.

The contract is estimated to cost taxpayers about $36,000 per year, but Renshaw wanted to see some financial justification for the six year cost before making the first payment March 1.

“It’s a good program, I understand what it’s for and I see both sides of it as well. But, is it a good fit right now for our county?,” Renshaw said. “We have a few more weeks to get all the information and make an educated decision on that.”

Fabian later added that meetings with individual departments helped evaluate other potential cost-savings – including in fleet management, a printer consolidation internally and a hiring and capital purchases freeze in at least three departments.

“You got to look at what your revenue is and you got to look at what your operating cost is, and if your operating costs are above what you’re anticipating bringing in, decisions like pay increases, Pictometry, any other capital purchases, those are easy decisions.

“If you don’t have it, you don’t spend it. If we can cut things out that helps the taxpayers but doesn’t hurt service, then that’s the way we’re going to conduct business.”

Executive Director of Administration Dan Lucovich reassured taxpayers that the commissioners have the best interest of local residents.

School District Lacking $1 Million in Revenue

by Jonathan Weaver

A lack of State subsidies has put the Armstrong School District behind when projecting for next year’s budget.

District Business Affairs Director Sam Kirk told school board directors last night that officials project to receive $30 million in basic education subsidy and construction reimbursement to balance the 2016-17 budget, but it all hasn’t been received yet.

“We’re still down about $335,000 in Basic Ed, but there’s no word right now about PlanCon. We’re due this year about $850,000 due to old PlanCon projects that we had,” Kirk said. “If that doesn’t come through this year, and the Basic Ed doesn’t change, that’s over $1 million in revenue that we anticipated not coming in.

“We’re still scrutinizing every dollar that goes out to make that money up in case it doesn’t come in,” Kirk said.

The update came just a few days before school directors are to vote whether to approve the 2015 audit.

No findings were found during the audit review, but some internal inefficiencies were noted. However, those problems were reportedly already corrected.

The school district ended up spending about $3.9 million less than what was anticipated, but received about the same amount in revenue.

The overall fund balance decreased by $1.8 million, however, and currently stands at $6.7 million.

Based on the current preliminary budget, more money from the fund balance would have to be used to balance the 2016-17 funding plan.

“I am not a believer of using the fund balance for reoccurring costs. If it’s a one-time expense, yes, but last year we used it for reoccurring costs. And if that fund balance continues to decrease, and we don’t have the savings to offset it, we’re going to have to come up with additional revenue somewhere,” Kirk said.

Kirk said last month that the $97.5 million budget will change “dramatically” before the final budget in May/June.

Kirk will watch a webinar next week of Governor Tom Wolf’s anticipated plan for education funding in 2017.

Tuesday, Gov. Wolf announced a $200 million increase to basic education funding as part of his 2016-17 budget proposal.