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Franklin Co. agency officials react to Pa. budget impasse

August 15, 2009|By JENNIFER FITCH

FRANKLIN COUNTY, Pa. -- Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell visited Franklin County Wednesday for an economic development event.

While there, the Democratic governor told reporters he's committed to the long fight for entities denied funding right now because of the state budget crisis.

Many of those entities, including counties and schools, faced revenue cuts in the leading budget proposal, Senate Bill 850. The legislature passed that spending plan with the understanding that Rendell would line-item veto things not affecting state workers' pay or government operations.

The move leaves everyone else without aid checks and with no real clues for how much they eventually will get.

Some, such as food pantries and children's nutritional programs, are closing their doors until money starts coming in again. Others are scraping by on borrowed money.

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The state budget was supposed to be passed by June 30. As of press time, only Connecticut and Pennsylvania had not passed budgets for the 2009-10 fiscal year, the Associated Press reported.

The Herald-Mail asked officials with some affected organizations in Franklin County whether they would prefer the cuts or uncertainty. Their responses are below.

Would you rather take the cuts presented in Senate Bill 850 and have your funding restored immediately, or continue to wait without state payments in hopes you might ultimately get higher allocations?

James Robertson

Waynesboro Area School District superintendent

"I would rather wait for a good budget," Robertson said.

The amount proposed in Senate Bill 850 isn't an enormous difference from 2008-09, but the real fallout would be in future years after stimulus funding expires, he said.

"All school districts will be back at a 2005-06 funding level, which would leave a $3 million hole in our budget," Robertson said.

Janet Pollard

Franklin County Visitors Bureau (FCVB) director

"The Franklin County Visitors Bureau is funded predominantly through the room tax; therefore, its primary revenue stream is impacted by the number of visitors staying in the lodging of Franklin County far more than state grant funds," Pollard said.

The visitors bureau received a Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development grant for $63,000 in 2008-09 based on its marketing plan, advertising revenue and room occupancy. The visitors bureau applied for the grant again and doesn't know whether it will be awarded.

"FCVB's functionality is not dependent on the passage of the budget," Pollard said.

Bob Thomas

Franklin County Commissioners chairman

"Neither one of those is a good answer for counties," Thomas said. "Neither (Senate Bill) 850 or waiting is a good answer."

Senate Bill 850 "slammed" counties, schools and a lot of agencies, he said.

"Waiting puts counties in an unenviable position of simply not knowing how much they'll be funded or if they'll be funded," Thomas said.

Counties receive state funding for entitlement services that are federally required, he said.

"What we would ask is for the state to pass a budget that adequately funds core government services that are mandated to counties," Thomas said.

C. Gregory Hoover

Greencastle-Antrim School District superintendent

"I think the bottom line is we just want to know," Hoover said.

He speculated "holding out" won't result in more money for the district, saying "we're either going to get the money or we are not."

"I just think we need to know what (the budgeted amount) is so we can plan accordingly," Hoover said. "Solve the budget dilemma right now so we can move forward."

Bernice Crouse

Franklin County Library System executive director

"There's not a universal answer to that question," Crouse said.

The Franklin County Library System is in a better position than other libraries across the state, mostly because of the county's library tax, Crouse said. Some are shutting down operations, she said.

Crouse said the Franklin County libraries can continue to wait for a few months.

Kenneth Wuertenberg

Mental Health Association of Franklin and Fulton Counties

Wuertenberg said neither answer is desirable.

"What I choose is for our elected officials in Harrisburg to suddenly regain their rationality, stop using our most vulnerable populations as pawns, stop exploiting the fears and insecurities of their constituents, stop pitting one special interest group against another, and do what they were elected to do -- manage government," Wuertenberg said. "Because right now, they're not earning their salaries."

Joseph Padasak

Chambersburg Area School District (CASD) superintendent

"According to recent information from the Pennsylvania Department of Education, CASD could wind up with $3 million less than we budgeted if Senate Bill 850 is passed," Padasak said.

Padasak described that as "devastating to our district" and it "would force us to cut additional programs and positions."

"We would prefer to wait for payments from the state with the hope that funding is restored to levels closer to what we budgeted," he said.

Megan Shreve

South Central Community Action Programs director

The best thing would be for the six conference committee members and governor to look at each line item and determine if those programs can afford cuts, Shreve said. They need to look at what is at risk instead of party politics, she said.

"Can some programs afford cuts while others cannot? Of course," Shreve said, saying some programs definitely need their funding.

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