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Budget impasse puts Westmoreland County in financial bind

Rich Cholodofsky
| Friday, Dec. 4, 2015, 12:01 a.m.
Dusk sets on the Westmoreland County Courthouse on Dec. 3, 2015, in downtown Greensburg.
Barry Reeger | Trib Total Media
Dusk sets on the Westmoreland County Courthouse on Dec. 3, 2015, in downtown Greensburg.

Westmoreland County may have to borrow as much as $10 million early next year to keep the government functioning should the state's budget impasse continue, commissioners said Thursday.

The ongoing budget dispute between lawmakers and Gov. Tom Wolf for the past six months has resulted in county governments and school districts throughout Pennsylvania without much-needed state funding.

In Westmoreland County, the impasse has meant that human service program providers have not been paid since the summer, and three senior citizen centers have been closed.

“We have to make sure our most vulnerable residents are taken care of,” said Commissioner Charles Anderson.

No other human service programs have been cut as a result of the budget dispute, commissioners said.

Commissioners unanimously voted Thursday to support a resolution authorizing the state association that represents counties to explore filing a lawsuit against the state seeking to force it to pay for necessary services during a budget impasse.

A lawsuit is not expected to help Westmoreland and other counties during the current stalemate.

“County government is so reliant on state funding, and, quite frankly, we're running out of money,” Commissioner Ted Kopas said. “Starting next month, we're going to have to take out a loan to fund county government.”

Officials estimate the county will receive $88 million next year in state funding to operate mandated social service programs.

Commissioners last month proposed a $310 million budget for 2016. A final budget is slated for approval Dec. 17.

Commissioners said they have explored borrowing $10 million, but a final loan amount has yet to be determined. While the loan would be repaid once the state budget is approved, taxpayers would be on the hook to repay interest and other costs associated with the borrowing, Kopas said.

“It's regrettable,” he said. “And sadder, it's preventable if the state would just get its act together.”

Rich Cholodofsky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6293 or rcholodofsky@tribweb.com.

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