MERCER COUNTY Panel to work on deficit and budget

Several agencies have agreed to give up their fourth-quarter allocations.
MERCER, Pa. -- With the resignation of Mercer County Commissioner Brian W. Shipley behind them, the other two county commissioners can focus on county finances, which include a year-end deficit that could surpass $1 million.
Gene Brenneman and Olivia Lazor can also begin putting together a county budget for 2002.
Lazor said that's been the main interest all along, despite the commission's being sidetracked by Shipley's problems, including his use of a county cellular telephone to make numerous calls to escort services and other adult-oriented businesses.
Work to do: Before the commissioners can finalize next year's budget, however, they've got to do some work on the current $15.9 million general fund spending plan.
The budget faces a deficit that could surpass $1 million, and Brenneman and Lazor said they don't know exactly how they will handle it.
She and Brenneman agreed that the exact amount of potential red ink isn't known.
He said Mercer County Jail operations were already $600,000 over budget at the end of September. That department alone could go $1 million over budget, he said, adding that, for the most part, department heads have been keeping spending under their budgeted amounts.
The jail, which has 114 beds, had 207 prisoners Tuesday, which means that 93 had to be housed in jails elsewhere at a cost of about $52 per day each and it's something the county has no control over, Brenneman said.
Who helped: The county did get some help from a number of agencies that it helps fund, she said.
Those agencies, including the Behavioral Health Commission, Penn-Northwest Development Corp. and Mercer County Area Agency on Aging, agreed to forgo their fourth-quarter allocations this year, saving the county about $250,000, Lazor said.
The 2002 budgeting process was thought to have been hampered by the resignations of the county fiscal director and assistant fiscal director in October, but Brenneman said the budgeting process is already ahead of normal for this time of year.
The commissioners hired an outside accounting firm to help prepare the spending plan. Lazor said budgetary requests so far exceed anticipated revenue by $4 million.
A lot of work needs to be done before a final budget plan is in place, she said.

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