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Ceraso says he won't support cuts

Rich Cholodofsky
| Saturday, Dec. 28, 2002

GREENSBURG: Westmoreland County Commissioner Tom Ceraso said Friday he would not support salary cuts for elected officials and layoffs in the county work force — two key elements of a cost-reduction plan offered earlier this week by Republican Commissioner P. Scott Conner.

"I don't think we're in a position where we need to cut salaries," Ceraso said.

Ceraso's comments came in response to a series of financial proposals made by Conner to trim more than $9 million in spending from the county budget that is expected to be approved Dec. 30.

Ceraso and Commissioner Tom Balya are preparing a pared-down version of the $290 million budget. A preliminary spending plan unveiled early this month called for $103.4 million in general operating expenses compared to just $87.8 million in revenues.

The $15.6 million deficit would be offset by the county's $16.5 million surplus, meaning all of the reserves would be used to balance this year's budget.

Conner this week called for a 15 percent cut in the county's work force that is paid from the general operating fund, 10 percent salary reductions for elected officials and senior executives, and a 5 percent pay cut for other managers.

He also said the county could save money by farming out a number of services such as operation of the county prison, airport, juvenile detention center and computer information department to private companies.

The proposals, however, don't seem to have much support from the Democrats.

Ceraso and Commissioner Tom Balya said Conner's proposals are short on specifics.

"When you get into it, I don't think it's realistic," Ceraso said.

Balya said he would review the proposals over the weekend and address them early next week.

In recent months, the budget debate has turned into a blame game. Conner has said the Democrats have plunged the county into financial crisis that might require a tax hike in 2004.

The Democrats said Conner has endorsed two of the past three spending plans and accused him of inflating the county's payroll because he mishandled union negotiations and urged that raises be given to several senior executives and aides to the commissioners.

Despite the projected deficit budget, Balya said the county's financial condition is not as dire as Conner said.

"When you look at Westmoreland County, our financial situation is not unique, and we're respected across the commonwealth as one of the better-run counties in Pennsylvania," Balya said.

Commissioners are scheduled to vote on a final budget Monday. The document expected to be considered is one that is being drafted by the Democratic commissioners and the county's finance office.

Conner has said he's been excluded from the budget process by the Democrats, while Balya and Ceraso claim the minority Republican has refused to participate in planning meetings.

Ceraso said the final budget is expected to include $7 million in spending cuts from the preliminary proposal.

The budget also is expected to keep property taxes at the current level of 16.99 mills.

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