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Franklin Co. budget cuts could mean layoffs

February 21, 2009|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. -- The hallways of Franklin County government buildings are a little darker these days and the offices a bit cooler, but some elected officials say cutting 8 percent from their budgets could mean cutting jobs, too.

"We've removed a lot of light bulbs" and turned down thermostats to save money, Board of County Commissioners Chairman Bob Thomas said Friday. The commissioners also put a hiring freeze into effect for most departments last fall as a cost-cutting measure.

Earlier this month, county commissioners asked department heads, the courts and elected officials to make cuts in the $115 million budget to forestall further cuts as the recession deepens. Some administrators met Friday to detail the progress they have made toward that goal.

"Almost everybody has come across ... or come real close" to the 8 percent mark, Thomas said. "There has been excellent cooperation countywide."

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"We'll see what they have to say. We'll meet with them next Friday," Thomas said when told some elected officials believe making the 8 percent goal means cutting hours or personnel.

Treasurer David Secor said his 2009 expenses, excluding wages and benefits, are 9.3 percent below his 2008 budget.

"Those dollars are those items I have control over. I have no control over salaries and benefits," Secor said. "Therefore, I feel I had done my part before even being asked, and I intend to do no more."

The commissioners could have started the process last fall by giving employees less than the 4 percent pay increase they received rather than possibly asking them to give back something now, Secor said. Retirees also were given a 3 percent cost-of-living adjustment, a move costing the county about $723,000 in future expenses, he said.

The retiree adjustment was approved on a 3-2 vote by the Retirement Board, made up of the commissioners, Secor and Controller Carol Diller. Secor and Diller voted against the increase.

Register and Recorder Linda Miller also thought she had cut 8 percent by switching an expensive data storage and imaging contract to an in-house operation, but those cuts were included in the 2009 budget she submitted to the commissioners.

"Now my understanding is they want another 8 percent over that," Miller said. "I don't know how I'm going to be able to do it because I did the major cut at budget time."

Clerk of Courts William Vandrew said 8 percent from his budget is $36,000, and Prothonotary Linda Beard said it will mean cutting about $32,000 from her budget. For Sheriff Dane Anthony, 8 percent is about $95,000.

"It's going to be real difficult ... virtually impossible unless it comes down to personnel," Anthony said.

On Thursday, human service agency directors met with commissioners to outline their operations and also talk about funding. For some of them, reductions in local funding also could mean cuts in state and federal matching funds, and possibly services.

"There's going to be areas where there may not be choices, but that doesn't mean we can't look inside those programs that wouldn't affect the safety net," Thomas said.

Some of those programs are entitlements, services the county is mandated by the state or federal government to perform. What is not covered by state and federal subsidies is picked up by county taxpayers.

"If they need the service, we have to provide it," Lisa McMichael, director of the county's Development Disabilities Program, said of the Early Intervention Program, which serves children from birth to 3 years old. The program, which now serves about 180 children, receives 90 percent of its more than $900,000 in funding through the state.

Each dollar of local taxpayer money is matched by about $9 in state and federal funding, McMichael told the commissioners Thursday.

Protective Services for Children is another entitlement program, said Debbie Phil, the assistant administrator for Children and Youth Services. That program handled 962 general referrals, including 194 cases of child abuse in 2008, she said.

An average of 176 children receive in-home protective services, with 85 in placements ranging from foster care to detention, Pheil said. Reimbursements from the state range from 90 percent for temporary shelter for a child to 50 percent for detention, which costs $240 per day.

Pheil told the commissioners fewer case workers could mean more children in the more expensive placement alternatives.

Children and Youth has a budget of about $9.4 million, including $1,980,000 from the county, Director Douglas Amsley said.

The Area Agency on Aging saw its number of cases of senior citizens being financially exploited, physically abused, neglected or abandoned more than double, from 39 in 2007 to 85 in 2008, Director Traci Kline said. Adult Protective Services and other aging programs are paid for through a state block grant, she said.

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