Westmoreland officials OK spending $114K on gear
By Rich Cholodofsky
Published: Friday, Nov. 30, 2012, 12:01 a.m.
Westmoreland County commissioners said a little extra cash on hand set them on a spending spree Thursday.
Commissioners authorized an additional $114,000 in expenses to purchase office equipment and other supplies before the end of the year.
Those purchases came the same day commissioners announced they will close the department that assists citizens seeking county benefits to save about $100,000 next year.
Commissioners unanimously approved dozens of budget amendments Thursday authorizing the purchase of equipment that includes:
• $31,000 for new stenography machines for court reporters;
• $12,288 to buy emergency radios for staff at the jail;
• $6,629 for stone to build a new parking lot at Mammoth Park;
• $316 for a folding ladder for the public works department;
• $268 for flag and pole for the register of wills office.
“It looked like we had some under-spending this year, so there are some things we were going to do next year that we'll do this year,” said Commissioner Charles Anderson.
According to budget figures, commissioners have spent $3 million more this year in the general fund budget over what they allocated in January. Commissioners originally budgeted $95.3 million for general county operations, but with Thursday's expenses the total amended outlay for 2012 is now estimated to be $98.2 million.
Still, commissioners touted savings in this year's budget.
“The cost savings we realized this year allowed us to stay under budget,” said Commissioner Tyler Courtney.
Meanwhile, commissioners said they are continuing to pare down a proposed $333 million budget for 2013. That spending plan carried a $16.5 million deficit in the general fund.
The overall budget is expected to be balanced through some cuts and by money transferred from the county's $37 million surplus.
One of the cuts will be closure of the Information and Referral office, which for decades has acted as a clearinghouse to assist residents requesting county services and the coordination of programs at the courthouse.
Anderson and Courtney said most of those functions will be reallocated to an existing regional program operated by Allegheny County and the United Way. Commissioners said the county will rely on the 2-1-1 program, which operates much like the 9-1-1 emergency dispatch system. Calls are handled by a central dispatching network to direct residents to the proper county social service.
“The 2-1-1 system makes Information and Referral a redundant service,” Anderson said. “We're looking for other persons in the county to dispense the other Information and Referral responsibilities. Everything they do will get done.”
Commissioner Ted Kopas, the lone Democrat on the board, said he had reservations about closing the office.
“That office has done a lot of personal case management. I think the public is going to miss that,” Kopas said.
In 2011, the office fielded more than 7,700 calls and this year, through October, it dealt with nearly 6,300 inquiries from citizens.
Wanda Layman, who has worked in the department for about 18 years, said the service she and her staff provides will be missed.
“I feel that Westmoreland County has had compassion for a lot of years, and that is what is going to be missed,” Layman said.
Commissioners said a final version of the budget will be presented for approval on Dec. 20.
Rich Cholodofsky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6293 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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