Blair considers adding 29 employees

Proposal includes 25 full-time positions

HOLLIDAYSBURG — In the next three years, Blair County’s department heads would like to add 24 full-time and five part-time positions to their staffs.

They also would like to make capital improvements during that same time frame, costing about $7.4 million. That figure includes money for repairs to Lakemont Dam, further repairs to the courthouse, the acquisition of computers and computer-related equipment and the purchase of replacement vehicles.

Commissioners, who reviewed a summary of the report during Tuesday’s weekly meeting, said they appreciated the information compiled by Finance Director Jennifer Sleppy.

“It alerts us to what kind of expenses are out there,” commissioners Chairman Bruce Erb said Tuesday. “And it’s going to help us distinguish between what are absolute needs and wants.”

Like she did a year ago, Sleppy provided commissioners with a mid-year report on the county’s finances.

This year’s report, she said, showed year-to-date expenses at 17.4 percent less than 2019’s projections.

But there are expenses anticipated in the second half of the year, Sleppy cautioned, and they will likely bring 2019’s expenses closer to budget projections by the end of the year.

Sleppy also reported 2019 revenue at 3.4 percent under projections for a budget that kept real estate taxes at 2018 levels.

In addition to describing the current year’s financial picture, Sleppy prepared a long-range planning report for 2020, 2021 and 2022, using information reported by department heads.

Besides staff and capital improvements, some department heads asked for improvements within their office spaces. But further research is needed to determine the costs of those expenses, Sleppy said.

The long-range planning report, Commissioner Terry Tomassetti said, should be helpful in deciding what to undertake and when.

No one is suggesting that everything be undertaken at the same time, Tomassetti said.

Commissioners also recognized that Sleppy’s report was based on available information.

Erb asked if it included any projections in light of the forthcoming job classification and wage study. Sleppy said no. Those recommendations are projected to become available in August, for use in planning a 2020 budget.

The long-range report also reflected no information about the current contract negotiations with a newly formed union representing the assistant district attorneys and assistant public defenders nor a contract being negotiated with employees represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

The attorneys, represented by the Service Employees International Union, are working on their first contract with the county. On Monday, the commissioners, County Admin­istrator Helen Schmitt, Human Resources Director Katherine Swigart and labor counsel Crystal Clark met in executive session to discuss where negotiations stand.

Erb also asked Sleppy if her report reflected any capital improvements that would be paid for with 2017 bond money. Sleppy said her report references some courthouse roofing work that isn’t covered in the bond issue.

Meanwhile, courthouse renovations paid for with 2017 bond issue money are ongoing. That includes exterior window repairs to the Union Street side of the courthouse.

It also applies to ongoing work within two courtrooms in the older portion of the courthouse, which remains closed to the public.

Consultant John Rita has made some recommendations on how to get the area ready for reopening, but commissioners will need to make some decisions first, Tomassetti said.

Meanwhile, new light fixtures were being hung Tuesday in the 1875 courtroom while Altoona painter Chris Cook worked on the decorative Gothic arch at the front of the courtroom. Courtroom furnishings remain offsite at a state prison facility where they are being restored.

Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 946-7456.

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