LAWRENCE COUNTY Budget forecast grows bleaker



Some county departments won't be spending the full amount budgeted this year.
By LAURE CIOFFI
VINDICATOR NEW CASTLE BUREAU
NEW CASTLE, Pa. -- Lawrence County's year-end budget woes just keep getting worse.
County Chief Clerk/County Administrator Charleen Micco said she projects the county shortfall could be as much as $1.6 million by late December. County Controller Mary Ann Reiter had previously predicted the shortfall would be about $1.3 million.
Micco said she based her figures on spending trends over the past several years in the remaining months of the year.
Considering options
County commissioners say they are looking at three options for year's end if things don't improve:
UClosing the county government center on certain days.
UInstituting a hiring freeze and when a position is vacated requiring that department to explain why it must be filled before someone new is hired.
ULaying off employees.
Commissioner Steve Craig said they have talked about all three ideas but haven't gone into specifics. He said they are waiting to see if they can get a better handle on the budget before making any decisions.
Commissioners continued to gather that information Monday by meeting with department heads and elected officials. They plan to continue those meetings in the next few weeks.
Jail population
Dominick Motto, Lawrence County Common Pleas Court president judge, told commissioners he's looking for ways to lower the county jail population. About half of those in jail are people who have violated parole by testing positive for drugs, he said.
"We are looking for ways to better deal with their behavioral needs," he said.
Judge Motto said he would like to expand the county house arrest program and couple it with drug treatment. The county adult probation office is working with Community Services, a private social service agency, on establishing a treatment program, he added.
Saving money
Judge Motto and Court Administrator Mike Occhibone said they expect to avoid spending about $218,000 of the court's $1.4 million budget this year. The judge noted that there are no unusual expenses coming up and they are keeping any capital expenses to a minimum.
Lawrence County Jail Warden Mark Fellows also expects to return some money budgeted for his facility this year. He estimates about $43,000 from overtime, groceries and other items won't be spent as expected.
Commissioners told Fellows to start lining up inmates from other counties to replace those who will become eligible for house arrest under Judge Motto's plans. Fellows said that as of Monday there were 32 out-of-county inmates at the jail. Lawrence County gets $55 per inmate each day.
Janet Kalajainen, county register and recorder, said she expects to refrain from spending about $13,500 budgeted for her office. Kalajainen said she would put off about $12,000 in purchases for her office and won't be spending as much money as originally thought for travel and training and microfilming. She noted that revenues from fees charged by her office are up about $10,000 over last year at this time.
Needs more money
County Sheriff Robert Clark, however, wasn't able to find any savings in his budget. Instead, he told commissioners he needs money to pay overtime to deputies. Clark said he also believes he will be short on travel and training costs after commissioners took money from his travel and training budget to pay deputies' overtime earlier this month. The majority of the sheriff's travel costs come from transporting prisoners to state facilities and other counties.
The sheriff's overtime woes started last month when his department was called out 32 times after regular hours to transport jail inmates to the hospital emergency room, depleting his overtime budget. Commissioner Dan Vogler said they will be looking at the sheriff's overtime costs on a week-by-week basis and providing the money as needed.
cioffi@vindy.com

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