Blair budget initially $5M short

HOLLIDAYSBURG — The first draft of the 2019 Blair County budget shows expenses exceeding revenue by $5.43 million, an amount that will change as commissioners decide what to cut and what to add.

A year ago, the first draft of the 2018 budget showed expenditures exceeding revenue by almost twice that amount: $9.38 million. And while commissioners removed some expenses, they also balanced the budget with a 25 percent increase in real estates taxes.

It’s too early to predict whether 2019’s budget will need a tax increase to balance, Finance Director Jennifer Sleppy said Wednesday at the end of the first in a series of meetings to review department budgets. And before reaching that point, Sleppy needs commissioners to make some budget-related decisions that will allow her to refine her estimates.

Sleppy told commissioners that the 2019 budget reflects 2 percent salary increases for elected officials, 3 percent increases for non-union personnel and either negotiated salary increases or “worst-case” estimates for employees covered by union contracts that are being negotiated.

Draft budget figures also exclude raises that department heads have requested on behalf of their staff members. A year ago, commissioners took those raises out and advised departments heads that they would be initiating a salary study that could help them evaluate the requests. The salary study is not expected to be finished before June.

Sleppy said the raise requests, plus increases to account for related payroll taxes, would add about $1.1 million to the budget expenditures.

“There will be some significant arguments in favor,” she predicted.

Commissioners Chairman Bruce Erb suggested waiting for the salary study before addressing the raises.

The county’s salaries haven’t been reviewed by professionals for decades, Erb said.

Commissioners Ted Beam Jr. and Terry Tomassetti said they wanted to review each department’s request, then evaluate a compilation of all raise requests that are being sought.

“I’m not closing the door on some reasonable increases,” Tomassetti said.

Another cost-saving option that surfaced during the budget session was to ask departments to use centralized copiers and printers as opposed to desktop models. Erb said it would be “a difficult transition to make” but based on his research, that would reduce the cost of printer supplies and possibly paper.

Some county printers are incapable of making two-sided copies, Controller A.C. Stickel said.

Beam said he is using a desktop printer he brought in from home.

Department heads are also asking commissioners to budget money for staff training and certification procedures because it’s beneficial to current employees and helps attract future employees.

Erb asked if the county could require an employee who gets training to remain on staff for a specific period of time, thereby lessening the chance that a county employee will get training and then leave for another job. Another option could be asking the county to pay back the expense linked to the training.

Someone may not take a job with the county if they have to make that kind of commitment, Chief Tax Assessor Dean Helices said.

Commissioners have scheduled daily budget workshops through Oct. 3, and each is open to the public.

Commissioners are also convening a special meeting at 6 p.m. today in Conference Room 2B at the courthouse to set salaries for elected officials holding office in 2022, 2023, 2024 and 2025. The meeting is open to the public.

Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 946-7456.