Westmoreland commissioners grapple with 2020 county budget shortfall | TribLIVE.com

Westmoreland commissioners grapple with 2020 county budget shortfall

Rich Cholodofsky
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
Westmoreland County Courthouse

Westmoreland County commissioners have not ruled out a property tax increase for 2020.

Commissioners unveiled a preliminary budget that continues to spend more money than the county takes in from tax revenue, fees and state and federal allocations. As it stands, the county’s surplus fund would be nearly drained to balance the early spending plan.

“We have a lot of work to do over the next month,” Commissioner Charles Anderson said.

The proposed $339 million budget includes no tax increase, program reductions or personnel cuts but also carries a $9.3 million deficit that would be offset by use of a $12.8 million surplus fund that is expected to carry over into 2020. That would reduce the surplus account to $3.5 million.

County property taxes, expected to generate $83.3 million next year, have remained flat for more than a decade. The county’s current tax rate of 20.99 mills has been unchanged since 2005.

“It’s one of the biggest things we’ll have to tussle with in the next three weeks. We’ll do what we have to do,” Anderson said.

Commissioners said they will look to trim the proposed spending plan and left open the possibility of a tax increase to raise revenue and restore the county’s dwindling surplus used to balance annual budgets.

“We have three weeks to try to cut as much as we can. We did do that, and there is more we can do,” Commissioner Gina Cerilli said.

She is the only member of the current three-member board who will serve as a commissioner next year. Anderson is retiring, and Commissioner Ted Kopas was defeated this month in his bid for a third term in office.

Kopas left the commissioners’ meeting room immediately after Friday’s session and was not available to answer questions about the budget. He did not return a call seeking comment.

The new commissioners’ board of Cerilli and Republicans Sean Kertes and Doug Chew can reopen the budget and craft a new spending plan in January.

The current board is slated to adopt a final 2020 budget Dec. 19.

And that document is still in flux.

Meghan McCandless, the county’s director of financial administration, said she expects commissioners will reduce some of the proposed spending but said there’s little in the way of waste in the current version.

The budget includes about $4.8 million in capital spending and carries conservative revenue estimates for income the county expects to receive from deep well gas drilling fees.

The budget includes no tax revenues from a mini casino slated to open late next year at Westmoreland Mall or from a potential settlement of an ongoing opioid lawsuit, McCandless said. The proposed plan anticipates that a $13.3 million payment will have to be made to the county’s retirement fund and includes increases in health insurance costs for workers.

“The commissioners will have to do some work to restore our fund balance, but how they do that is up to them,” McCandless said.

The county’s fiscal policy requires the surplus to have the equivalent of two months’ worth of expenses in the bank, about $21 million, she said.

Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Rich at 724-830-6293, [email protected] or via Twitter .

Categories: Local | Westmoreland
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