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Blair makes little headway on budget

HOLLIDAYSBURG — Blair County commissioners will convene another 2021 budget review meeting today as they look for ways to address a $3.57 million deficit.

Commissioners, who made little headway Monday in lowering the projected deficit, reached no consensus while discussing suggestions on how to save money through staff reductions.

Several jobs in the county have been vacant for three months and some for at least six months, Commissioner Amy Webster told fellow commissioners. She proposed having the salary board eliminate the posts because that work is likely being done by others.

A closer look at vacant positions, however, prompted Commissioner Laura Burke to refer to ones in departments staffed based on the number of cases they handle. She referenced the Children, Youth and Families office where hiring has been on hold while waiting for Civil Service testing to resume. She also mentioned the juvenile probation office where jobs haven’t been filled because of a staff restructuring plan.

“I really think you’re playing with fire if you think we can cut any of these positions,” Burke said.

Webster later said she would await further information from Burke on CYF staffing levels.

Webster also proposed identifying jobs that could be eliminated through greater reliance on technology. Duties can be reassigned or shared, allowing full-time positions to be cut back to part time, she said.

That kind of pursuit would be difficult to achieve by the end of the year, Commissioner Bruce Erb said, but it could be considered in the future.

“Just because something was (accounted for) in the budget, doesn’t mean we spend it,” Erb said. “Every day in our office is budget season.”

Webster, in response, said her suggestion could be pursued over the next six to eight months.

She also proposed that the county look for ways to cut expenses through virtual work opportunities.

In reviewing another portion of the budget, commissioners recognized the 911 Center’s operating budget shows a projected deficit of $1.1 million, subject to change and based on funding formulas controlled by the state.

While state lawmakers earlier this year settled on a five-month budget valid through Nov. 30, they have not yet adopted a spending plan to address the last seven months of the 2020-21 fiscal year.

“We’re probably going to have to adopt a budget before we know how much the state is going to reimburse us,” Erb said.

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