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A bleak outlook in Schuylkill

Published July 22. 2010 05:00PM

A financial summary of the county's general fund was presented to the Schuylkill County Commissioners at their work session Wednesday at the courthouse in Pottsville, and the outlook is bleak.

"The growth in expenditures will outpace the growth in revenue and we are projecting general fund expenditures to exceed general fund revenues by $3.5 million and this will require a drawdown from the unreserved fund balance," said Paul Bubel, fiscal officer.

Currently the fund balance, which had accumulated over the years, reached $9.7 million, and if the county needs to draw $3.5 million to balance the current budget, it will reduce it to $6.2 million. The fund was established to meet any disaster which may occur. When the commissioners adopted the 2010 budget, they anticipated the deficit.

Sessions get under way next week for the 2011 budget.

Bubel reported the collection of county real estate taxes this year is on par with last year's collection "which shows people are paying their taxes despite the difficult economic times," he said. The tax collection has been 86 percent. He also estimated the county to date has collected 66 percent of its budget revenue and expended 42 percent through June 30.

Paul Straka, assistant county administrator, added, "As we move forward with cutting our expenditures in various areas, we must not lose sight that every day expenses, such as heat and air conditioning, electricity, water, sewer and materials and supplies continue to increase." Straka reported total expenses as of June 30 were $20,809,932.

He pointed out health care costs continue to be steady, workers' compensation has decreased, and significant expenditure drops have been noted in the recycling program, coroner's office, parks and recreation bureau and engineering department. Straka, who draws up the county budget, predicted the 2011 budget "will most likely be facing yet another deficit."

Mark Scarbinsky, county administrator, joined in the discussion, telling the commissioners this will mean tough negotiations with the unions. Negotiations have been ongoing for months with the AFSCME union, which represents certain "row" offices at the courthouse. Three other union contracts expire at the end of the year one with the prison personnel and two unions dealing with court-related employees.

Scarbinsky pointed out while some school districts, boroughs and townships have been forced to increase property taxes, the county has not increased taxes the past few years, but has worked with the courts and elected officials to cut costs and the cooperation has been great.

The consensus of opinion of the three commissioners was, "We are once again entering a fiscal year where we must do more with less."

Commissioner Mantura Gallagher complimented the officers on the report, saying "The commissioners need to keep their finger on the daily financial condition of the county and their report plays a major role to help the commissioners regulate the daily operation."

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