Budget shortfall at prison less than originally expected

HOLLIDAYSBURG – Despite a concern about overtime, Blair County Prison is expected to exceed its overall 2013 budget only by about $20,000, according to projections provided Thursday.

Staff overtime, projected to reach $345,000 this year – $245,000 more than the budgeted $100,000 – will be offset by lower spending for staff salaries and groceries, county Finance Director Robert Kuntz told the prison board during its monthly meeting.

He also provided the prison’s proposed 2014 budget of $5.16 million, a 2.15 percent increase over the 2013 budget.

Both will be subject to further review and refinements in the coming weeks when county leaders begin organizing a proposed 2014 budget and settle on real estate tax rates.

While the prison’s overtime reports have repeatedly drawn attention this year, Kuntz pointed out that regular salaries at the prison are expected to come in at $2.94 million, falling short of the $3.11 million. He said that might be a result of staff hours qualifying for overtime payments.

Kuntz credited Deputy Warden Marc Masucci for tracking grocery expenses and realizing a $50,000 savings over the 2013 budget projection of $606,000 budget. Masucci said the number of inmates made a difference too.

“Our population is down,” Masucci said.

Controller Richard J. Peo asked about a plan to budget less in 2014 for groceries than allocated in 2013, when grocery prices seem to keep going up.

Kuntz said he tried to account for that. His 2014 budget proposal allocates $585,600 for food, more than the $557,234 that is expected to be spent on groceries this year.

Commissioner Terry Tomassetti, who chairs the prison board, said the budget projections also accounts for a reduction in staff and hours at the central booking facility. Kuntz’s 2014 projections show the facility’s revenue at $197,610 and expenditures at 169,536, leaving a projected balance of $28,074.

“You can see why we needed to decrease the central booking staff,” Tomassetti said.

The prison board also agreed Thursday to recommend commissioners increase the inmate admission processing fee from $10 to $45 as a way to capture close to the actual cost of the procedure.

Warden Michael Johnston said he accounted for staff time and benefits, the cost of documents and a tuberculosis test to come up with a cost of $44.24 for processing a male inmate’s admission. The warden said the cost for admitting a woman to the jail is $1 more to include a pregnancy test.

Johnston said the prison currently collects about $15,000 annually from the fee, and its collection rate is about 68 percent.

“That may drop due to the increase,” the warden advised.

Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 946-7456.