COVID aid fills Blair’s coffers

HOLLIDAYSBURG — Blair County ended 2020 with a cash reserve of just over $11 million that’s available for future use, the county’s latest audit shows.

The $11 million is about $6 million more than the comparable cash reserve reported in the 2019 audit, auditor David Scott of Young, Oakes, Brown & Co. told commissioners Tuesday.

The improvement, Scott said, can be attributed to the county’s receipt and use of COVID-19 relief funds in 2020.

Of an $11 million allocation from the federal Coronavirus, Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act in 2020, the county retained $5.2 million, which it used to cover salaries, benefits and expenses associated with the pandemic.

It distributed the rest of the $11 million allocation, which included $2.76 million to small businesses and $2.23 million to municipalities, to offset their pandemic-related costs.

Scott said he reviewed the expenditures the county reported for its COVID-19 CARES allocation as part of what he said added up to the county’s receipt of $19 million in federal assistance.

“We audited the COVID money, and there were no issues with it at all,” Scott said.

If the county hadn’t received the COVID-19 money, then 2020 would have been a break-even year for the county, Scott said outside the commissioners meeting.

Despite the improvement in its cash reserve, Scott said the audit also showed an increase in the county’s pension liability to what could be a high of $91 million, a figure that commissioners Chairman Bruce Erb described as almost two years old.

Erb said that an updated figure is coming, possibly as early as next week’s county retirement board meeting. He also advised Scott that the $91 million calculation wouldn’t reflect a pension funding policy that the retirement board adopted earlier this year. That policy encouraged the pension contribution to increase by 5 percent or $250,000, whichever is less.

When offering a report in May 2020 on the 2019 audit, Scott identified the county pension liability at $76.6 million. For 2018, he reported it at $74.8 million, which was recognized as an improvement from the high of $89 million reported in 2017.

The increase in the pension liability, Scott said, reflects the county’s ongoing inability to meet the recommended annual contribution.

It’s typically about $6.8 million to $7 million.

Commissioners have steadily increased the general fund contribution to the pension plan in recent years — and budgeted $4.75 million for the fund in 2021. The pension fund also receives revenue from its investments and from contributions by current employees.

Scott said he thinks the increase in the pension fund liability reflects an increase in benefits and future benefits being paid to more people.

“I’m sure the demographics are a factor because there’s probably a lot more retirees,” Scott said.

Erb agreed and referenced Social Security’s projected shortfalls that are being attributed to the increase in retirees earning benefits.

“It’s upside down,” Erb said.

“That’s the problem,” Scott said.

Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 814-946-7456.


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