MERCER COUNTY Budget takes a hit as expenses soar

No layoffs are planned for the rest of this year, but it is too early to predict what could happen come January, a commissioner said.
MERCER, Pa. -- County expenses are running about $1 million more than anticipated.
But commissioners are confident they will end the year in the black.
"The county is not broke and we do not have a severe financial condition," Commissioner Chairman Gene Brenneman said Thursday.
He added no layoffs are planned for the two months remaining in this year but said it is too early to predict what could happen in 2002.
Reasons given: Commissioner Olivia Lazor said increases in crime, both juvenile and adult, are why expenses are running so high. The jail is already $750,000 over budget because of a higher prisoner census than anticipated and Children and Youth Services budget is running $300,000 over because the Juvenile Probation Office had an unusually high number of residential treatment placements, she said.
Brenneman said the budget was prepared based on an average jail census of 150, but the actual year's average to date is 174.
One possible source of extra funds is about a $1 million in reimbursement the state owes the county for construction costs for the Oakland Avenue Bridge in Sharon. Brenneman is hopeful the money will come through in the next few weeks. If it does not, commissioners said they have several contingency plans.
"We will get through this. We have done it before," Lazor said.
Work is also continuing on next year's budget, which must be adopted by year's end.
Commissioners said they will adopt a preliminary budget in a special meeting at 10:30 a.m. Nov. 27 to allow the legally required 30 days of public examination. Final budget adoption is set for 10:30 a.m. Dec. 27. Both meetings will take place in the commissioners' meeting room in the courthouse.
Budget preparation is taking place with the help of Dennis Liebe, a Sharon accountant, who is working under a contract approved Thursday for $50 hourly, up to $6,250. Commissioners hired him because of the recent resignation of County Finance Director Jeff Swartzbeck.
Lazor said cuts are being made in all 2002 budgets, but directors of departments will have an opportunity to argue against them. Although there is not much room to negotiate, she said, commissioners want to be sensitive to department needs.
Another factor that cannot yet be measured is the effect on the 2002 budget of some 23 county employees expected to take the early retirement option next year.

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