State budget’s done, but county still has questions

BROOKVILLE — Although this is the first time in nine years that Pennsylvania lawmakers have passed a state budget on time, there are still a lot of questions left to be answered.

During Wednesday’s Jefferson County Commission meeting, the commissioners could not relay information about final budget figures because they themselves have little to no information.

Chairman Paul Corbin called it a game in progress.

“It seems like last year, we didn’t have a budget, so nobody knew what we had, and this year, we have a budget, but we still don’t know what we have,” Commissioner Jim McIntyre said, speaking mainly from the human services perspective.

However, Brian Mowrey, executive director for Jefferson County Children and Youth Services, was able to outline a history of funding from the Human Services Development Fund (HSDF).

HSDF provides counties with a flexible source of funding to be used within the human services programs for which the counties are responsible: Adult services, aging, children and youth, drug and alcohol, homeless assistance, and the community mental health/mental retardation programs.

These funds are used to expand existing services in any or all of the program areas, for the coordination of services among those programs and for specialized or generic services.

The flexibility offered by HSDF allows counties to maximize both program and cost efficiencies in serving individuals and families with multiple needs as well as the specialized needs of certain client groups.

According to Mowrey, $115,718 was the proposed figure for Jefferson County for the 2009-2010 fiscal year. But in November of that year, the certified numbers were actually found to be at $101,723; from that figure, the year’s plan was developed.

But HSDF was cut again in February 2010 to $87,723 and then reduced again during the 2010-2011 fiscal year to $80,373.

For this fiscal year, Mowrey is expecting an even bigger cut to human services: 36 percent, which reduces $80,373 to $51,439.

“If you look at this over the past three years, you see that we’ve been cut in half and even a little bit more,” he said.

McIntyre said that he has had discussions with each of the executive directors from the different human services domains in the county, including Community Action, Jefferson County Area Agency on Aging and Mental Health/Mental Retardation (MH/MR).

“At this time, all of those executive directors indicate that services would be continuing at the same level,” he said. “There are no cuts anticipated at this time.”

Although they are anticipating a lack of cuts, there is one major concern.

According to McIntyre, the ongoing, unfunded mandates are a particular problem, and the county may very well see even more of these mandates.

“We have to be mindful and vigilant,” he said.

But he said that the county can be very proud because “our services are delivered in a very cost-effective manner. Our county can be very thankful from that perspective,” he said.

Despite the lack of information about final budget figures, Corbin said the commissioners have learned a lot.

He said that there seems to be a movement toward prison medical costs — working with providers to accept medicaid to try to help contain the medical costs in the county prisons.

In addition, the state is looking for ways to save money with transportation costs; normally, figures can rise to $3.5 billion in transportation.

According to Corbin, by eliminating stickers on license plates, the state could save about $1 billion.

The state is also considering an eight-year driver’s license, raising fees for car licenses and registrations and tolling Interstate 80 but emphasizing that the money from the tolls can be used only for maintenance of the roadway.

Furthermore, according to McIntyre, the legislation to eliminate the position of jury commissioner will be back on the table this fall. But he is “anticipating that it will be the decision of the county commissioners and not a referendum.”

In other business:

• The commissioners took the opportunity to thank Solid Waste/Recycling Coordinator Donna Cooper and the Solid Waste Authority Board for the work that they do.

“You are commended for keeping it going because [recycling] is a very viable service, and the younger generation is being educated,” McIntyre said.

Cooper said Jefferson County residents are doing a good job of recycling and recycling where they should be.

She added that the Walston site will be moved — upon request — to the township building because the building is equipped with surveillance cameras.

• The commissioners proclaimed the week of July 17-23 as “Probation, Parole and Community Supervision Week” in Jefferson County. The week will honor probation and parole officers for the difficult and risky job that they provide for the county, Corbin said.

• The commissioners appointed Judi Anthony of Brookville to the Jefferson County Planning Commission to fill the unexpired term of Karen Allgeier who resigned. Anthony’s term will expire Dec. 31.

• The commissioners approved invoices in the amount of $598,424.93 for the period June 28 through July 13 inclusive.

• The commissioners approved pending invoices in the amount of $147,656.60.

• The commissioners approved two $5,000 applications from Corsica Borough and Pine Creek Township for County Aid under the Liquid Fuels Program.