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Franklin Co. trying to balance 'human need versus fiscal sanity'

Commissioners discuss how they can continue paying for human services

Commissioners discuss how they can continue paying for human services

August 20, 2009|By JENNIFER FITCH

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. -- Franklin County, Pa., officials are discussing how they can continue paying for human services despite dwindling cash, even suggesting they might have to make tough choices and only fund some of the programs that help infants, alcoholics, the mentally ill, elderly adults and the homeless.

Human Services Administrator Richard Wynn said they aren't decisions he wants to make. However, $2.9 million of state payments to the county remain past due from 2008-09 and all funding for 2009-10 dried up until Pennsylvania legislators pass a budget.

"As I was sitting here and the commissioners were charging me with (ranking programs), I had a fantasy that I'd go to Harrisburg and storm the Bastille rather than do that," Wynn said at Thursday's commissioners meeting.

The county has stepped in and made payments that continue services while the state budget is negotiated.

Commissioner Bob Ziobrowski said he believes the state will pass a budget before the county is in dire straits financially. Franklin County's fiscal director has estimated that savings can pay for both general operations and social services until Sept. 23.

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After that, available cash would be reduced below prudent levels. The commissioners, who budget on a calendar year, preliminarily talked about borrowing money to carry them a few more months.

Pennsylvania's budget was supposed to be passed by June 30.

The county is mandated on some level to offer children and youth, medical transportation, mental retardation, and early intervention programs. Some can be outsourced.

Wynn acknowledged the commissioners are trying to balance "human need versus fiscal sanity."

"It's so hard to judge what the state's doing right now," he said, saying he's afraid he'll need to stop paying providers, stop services or lay off staff.

"We're going to try to keep everyone in business and taken care of as long as possible," Commissioner David Keller said.

Commissioners Chairman Bob Thomas said he feels the county cannot turn its back on its most vulnerable citizens.

Wynn described cost-saving steps already taken. Some were made in response to the commissioners' own cuts in March.

"Would you say (programs) are already in a triage situation fiscally, where they're paying for things they can and delaying others?" Ziobrowski asked.

"Yes. ... We aren't getting any cash for any of our services," Wynn answered, saying the county's frugality puts those services in a better position than other regions.

The county would've received $3.4 million by now for the first payments in the state's 2009-10 fiscal year, according to Fiscal Director Teresa Beckner.

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