BEDFORD - A whopping series of checks totaling more than $300,000 arrived at the Bedford County treasurer's office Friday afternoon.
Their sender: President Judge Thomas Ling.
Ling returned the massive sum to the county coffers, taking a major step toward reining in an ongoing financial battle with the commissioners.
Ling had held the money, collected from judicial fines and fees, for months in hopes of securing a favorable deal with the commissioners, who last year cut off the probation office's line of credit for excess expenditures and bonuses.
As both sides prepared to take the dispute to the state courts, the commissioners on Tuesday selected a Pittsburgh law firm to represent them, and Ling said he met with county financial officers to discuss the effect his cash seizure was having on the budget.
"[They said] it would hurt the employees," Ling said. "And that was never my intention."
County officials had said for weeks that Ling's refusal to turn over the hundreds of thousands of dollars would end in missed paychecks and, ultimately, mass layoffs.
The money, released Friday from a probation office account and routed back to the county's general funds, "should go a long way" toward relieving Bedford County's financial troubles, Ling said.
County Treasurer Paula Sheirer said the unexpected windfall could make layoffs and office closures unnecessary, at least for the foreseeable future.
"I'm pleased we're going to see it," Commissioner Chairman Kirt Morris said. "But it's a shame we have to go through all these hoops to get it."
Morris said the dispute isn't over, with ongoing battles over a separate judicial fund still poised to reach the courts.
It all goes back to the commissioners' 2011 decision to stop forwarding county money to the probation office. For years prior, the county helped to pay for officers' supplemental pay and equipment, to be compensated when a judicial fund arrived later.
But the probation office ran up a hefty debt, the commissioners said, and refused to pay it back. They cut off the money supply in a decision that will likely continue to cause friction, Ling said.
He signed an order on Tuesday to resume paying officers directly from the probation fund, arguing that he can cut out the middleman - Bedford County - and cover probation officers' extra pay directly from court fees they collect. The order lists officers' annual bonuses ranging from $5,000 for three-to-five-year seniority to $16,000 for 30-year veterans.
Morris decried the judge's order on Friday, saying Ling can't take money directly from the probation fund and pay it out with no oversight. The probation office's cash reserves must be routed through the county financial system before making their way back as bonuses, he said.
The commissioners plan to meet with attorneys soon to determine their next step, he said.