Pa.’s county commissioners face unknowns in budget planning

    Counties throughout Pennsylvania are nearing their year-end deadline for finalizing their 2013 spending plans.

    At their annual meeting in Hershey, commissioners say they are facing several unknowns.

    Maybe it’s the two-day conference of county commissioners that makes Joe DeMott slump in his seat. Or maybe it’s the looming budget deadline that promises more work ahead for the chairman of the McKean County commissioners.

    The spending proposal’s not quite done, DeMott said Tuesday, as he briefly lamented his county’s inadequate tax base.

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    Commissioners have been working to cut costs — DeMott says the county has reduced its prison population by a third over the past year.But he worries new corrections policies established by the state might erase those gains.

    “The state is changing their guidelines as far as what type of convicts can be sent to state prison so we may end up having more of those people in the county jail now,” he said.

    It’s an issue because DeMott’s county had planned on using the extra space it freed up in county prisons to lease to the state.

    Now, he says, the potential revenue source may disappear.

    Another issue is a program designed to give them more discretion over how to spend state funding for human services.

    Schuylkill County didn’t get into the pilot program, which gives counties flexibility in funding seven different services with a single block grant.

    But Commissioner Jeff Halcovage says he’s asking staff to act as if they’re in the program — by communicating more about their budgets.

    He’s hoping it will encourage savings among the various human services.

    “Senior services, the children and youth, drug and alcohol. We all need to have more conversation together. There’s nothing worse than one silo not knowing what the other silo’s doing, and that’s where sometimes you see a problem occurring,” he said.

    The Corbett administration says it wants to make the human services block grant available to all counties next year.

    The County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania supports the expansion of the program statewide as soon as it’s “practical.”

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