Fayette County commissioners blame shortfall on faulty estimates
Weeks before Fayette County commissioners must adopt a 2015 budget, they discussed Thursday “overinflated” revenue figures and the loss of expected debt service funding that affected the 2014 budget.
Commissioner Angela Zimmerlink cited as one instance the fee-based United Parcel Identification system for property records, implemented a few months ago.
The 2014 budget anticipated that revenue to reach $450,000, Zimmerlink said.
As of Thursday, the fund held $79,000 said Joyce Barnett, chief deputy controller.
This year’s budget included a $500,000 “discrepancy,” Zimmerlink said, stemming from the expected use of gaming funds to offset debt service.
The state, however, directed that funding must be used for redevelopment and economic development.
“Revenue we anticipated for 2014 did not materialize,” Barnett said after the commissioners’ meeting.
The board must address the $450,000 that did not materialize, she said.
“That has to be discussed and handled by the three commissioners before the end of this year. I mean getting in a room and talking, and figuring out where that money is going to come from. It doesn’t exist. It’s not rocket science. Something has to be done,” Barnett said.
Zimmerlink stated last year that she voted against the 2014 budget because it relied heavily on Act 13 Marcellus shale funds and gaming revenues and eliminated pension fund payments.
“We did not get the UPI system implemented until later than we planned. If up and running earlier, we probably would have been in the $250,000-$300,000 range,” Commissioner Vincent Zapotosky said.
“I think the gaming (anticipated funding) was just a bad estimate. We didn’t know what Harrisburg was going to do,” he said.
He said it was expected the county would be able to use part of those revenues for county needs.
“That is not the case,” he said.
“We have a lot of work to do in 2015. We will have to start out with (determining) the revenues. Once we get that, we can determine the expenses. The budget is of great concern. Revenue will be key to where we will be in 2015,” Zapotosky said.
The board is scheduled to meet Dec. 9 to propose a 2015 general fund budget, which will be adopted at a special meeting Dec. 29.
Also on Thursday, the board approved a proposal with McClure and Wolf LLP for accounting assistance and consultation for the annual budget and annual audit at a total cost not to exceed $42,000.
The company replaces the county’s former financial consultant, Susquehanna Group Advisors of Harrisburg.
Zapotosky said the budget Susquehanna prepared last year showed no debt.
“We definitely needed to bring in McClure and Wolf to help us address this,” Zapotosky said.
Mary Beth Homistek of Uniontown questioned commissioners’ plans to purchase a 2015 Ford 14-passenger minibus with handicapped seating for the Veterans Affairs department at an estimated cost of $79,103.
The board planned to purchase from a list of state-approved vendors through the COSTARS program, overseen by the Department of General Services.
Homistek said she conducted her own research and determined a similar vehicle could be purchased for thousands less, a move the county should take because it spent money planning for a scuttled county jail.
“With the $2 million that the county has just blown for the jail, I would think that the county would want to save the money,” she said.
Homistek volunteered to make calls to seek lower bids.
“Vets don’t deserve a limo to go to Pittsburgh. They need a ride. I’m a vet. … It doesn’t seem fiscally prudent to go ahead and vote on it without looking at other bids,” she said.
Zimmerlink said department heads are responsible for conducting that research.
“They have to follow county code,” she said.
“Do you really think (COSTARS) can cut a better deal than a local (dealer)?” asked Dunbar resident Terry Kriss.
The board voted to approve the van’s purchase, with the agreement to explore other entities’ availability to provide vehicles meeting required specifications.
Mary Pickels is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-5401 or [email protected].