Cambria County makes payroll

EBENSBURG – About $1.6 million in state reimbursements allowed Cambria County to make this week’s $1.2 million payroll, after coming up $700,000 short last week.

But with the rest of that money already spoken for, county Controller Ed Cernic Jr. said it’s unclear how the county will be able to bridge the financial gap until 2014.

About $1.3 million of the reimbursement money was for Children & Youth Services, with an additional $340,000 to help the county run its court system. The money allowed the county to make payroll, pay some bills and reimburse employees for expenses that had been held up last week, following a memo stating that the controller’s office would not reimburse employees until money could be found for payroll and other loan payments.

“That has helped us,” Cernic said, but through the rest of the year, the county will only be paying bills “that are absolutely necessary,” and he can only guess from where money will be withheld until he looks at a list of bills next Monday.

And there are large payments coming up in December, he said, including $5 million on an anticipation note, plus $150,000 in interest, and another $1 million payment total for three other loans. Cernic said he’s pinching pennies where he can, but the outlook is grim.

“As of right now, I don’t see where the money’s at for it,” he said.

President Commissioner Douglas Lengenfelder said he and other commissioners are working toward a deal to solve some of the county’s budget problems “once and for all,” but wouldn’t go into specifics until a deal is reached, which he said should happen by mid-November.

A cash-flow problem is the main source of the county’s budget woes, along with a large pay-raise schedule for employees approved by previous commissioners. Department heads work to cut costs where they can, Lengenfelder said, and good management helps control costs as much as possible.

“We’re working on some options. … We believe that we’re going to be able to make it through the end of the year,” he said. “It’s just how well we’re going to make it is sort of the question, and how much we’re going to have to rob Peter to pay Paul.”

There’s no question money’s going to be tight, he said, but Cernic’s approach doesn’t help.

“We’ve been looking at these numbers historically, and if you take a day-by-day approach to budgeting and you’re not looking at history and everything else that is predicted to come in … I can see where you could scare yourself,” he said. “One of the reasons he [Cernic] scares himself is because of the way he acts. You need not scare yourself on a regular basis, if you take a different approach at how you’re to deal with the budget and the county.”

An accounting report from Johnstown-based firm Wessel & Company showed the county approximately $50,000 in the black for last year, Lengenfelder said, so there is no reason to worry about the county’s finances prematurely.

“The controller’s office really jumped the gun early this year … until we work out some of these final figures for the year, we really won’t know” our financial situation, he said.

“Payroll will still be made. As long as we don’t do something silly, we should be able to make it.”