BEDFORD - With Bedford County's coffers drying up and hundreds of thousands of dollars still tied up in a departmental dispute, commissioners said Tuesday that dozens of county layoffs could be weeks away.
"We have to pull money from somewhere else," Commissioner Chairman Kirt Morris said.
Commissioners have blamed a series of funding issues - chief among them a dispute with President Judge Thomas Ling - for the county's approaching inability to meet payroll needs.
"I don't want to comment on it," Ling said Tuesday evening.
Morris said the commissioners have kept union officials apprised of the county's financial problems, but with a legal requirement to pay county employees on time, mass layoffs may be their only recourse.
"It's not going to be one or two people," Morris said. "It's going to be in the twenties or thirties."
While Morris blamed Ling's refusal to hand over more than $200,000 in county money for much of the payroll issue, other forces are at work, he said. Commissioners had earlier blamed slow state-to-county payments, overtime costs and their predecessors' lack of financial planning for contributing to the shortfall.
Ling and county officials have taken shots at each other for months, beginning with commissioners' refusal to front money to the Bedford County probation office for supplemental pay and other expenses.
Since then, Ling has kept hundreds of thousands of dollars outside the county's hands. While some funds are clearly allowed to remain in his control, the commissioners maintain that they're owed about $250,000 in collected fines and penalties.
Ling isn't legally compelled to forward the money to the county promptly, but once-regular payments became less frequent as the dispute wore on, Morris said. Commissioners have accused Ling of waiting until the last possible moment - late December - to refill their coffers.
By then, they said, it would be too late for many county employees.
The commissioners didn't say whether a single department could be particularly hard-hit by furloughs.
"It's going to have to be everywhere," Morris said. "Because there's no way you can get to that [shortfall] amount of nearly half a million dollars."
Morris said specific discussions of the furloughs are "at least a couple weeks" away. The county saw three jobs eliminated in 2011, its most recent round of layoffs.
Area representatives of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, a union representing county workers, weren't available for comment Tuesday.
Mirror Staff Writer Ryan Brown is at 946-7457.