CLEARFIELD – Clearfield County’s drug problem has meant drastic increases in court-related costs this year and a more than $969,000 deficit in the proposed 2018 budget.
At Tuesday’s regular board meeting, the Clearfield County Commissioners presented the preliminary proposal for the upcoming-year’s budget.
As presented, it includes a $969,837 deficit. The commissioners, however, do not have any plans to raise the tax burden on county residents.
Commissioner John A. Sobel said while a number of things contributed to the high deficit, it’s mainly due to the county’s “very serious drug problem.”
“Whenever you have a drug problem, the population of the county prison is going to be higher than normal, and it has been for quite a while now,” he said.
“The costs of keeping that population have increased significantly this year. This has also probably been the most expensive year we’ve had with our Children & Youth Services.
“CYS managers and caseworkers have to pick up the pieces and put families back together that have been torn apart by the drug problem in Clearfield County.”
According to Commissioner Mark B. McCracken, the jail is currently over budget in 2017 by $24,000 for overtime; $40,000 for food; $69,000 for medical; and $9,000 for janitorial supplies.
He said the county had budgeted for an inmate population of about 130 to 135, but it’s been consistently over 150 inmates.
He said so far in 2017, it has cost the county $53,185 to house inmates out of county. He noted that figure doesn’t include any transportation costs or overtime paid to sheriff’s deputies to move the inmates.
McCracken said the high jail costs then “trickle over” and drive up costs for the CYS department.
Commissioner Tony Scotto said placement and provider figures have increased and the commonwealth has been slow in paying back reimbursements. He said CYS costs have subsequently increased by approximately $300,000 over last year.
The commissioners said the county’s drug epidemic is affecting all of its human services departments and responsible for approximately half of the budget deficit.
Sobel said they’ve been working with the courts – through the prison board – on additional drug treatment and counseling and will continue to support local law enforcement’s efforts to combat the drug problem.
McCracken said departments have also made some significant capital requests this year, such as driveway and parking lot paving at the jail, new body armor for the sheriff’s department, etc.
He said they had looked at doing some interior painting at the county’s Courthouse Annex building. He said although it was something they wanted to get in, it may get cut out completely.
“It’s a very difficult budget,” McCracken said. “Society’s costs are costing county government right now, and we have to figure out how to work it into this budget.”
Sobel added, “We understand that it’s not fair to force society’s problems onto our taxpayers. We want to make sure that there isn’t any tax increase this year.”
The commissioners will continue to critically evaluate each department’s revenues and expenditures and make any necessary cuts.
When asked if the county could use its fund balance to make up the deficit, Scotto said the vast majority is allocated to certain departments and can’t be touched. He said its unrestricted fund balance has been shrinking, and the budget situation is very tight right now.
The commissioners will vote on the proposed preliminary budget next week. It will then be available on public display for 20 days until it’s finalized at the Dec. 26 meeting.
Prior to the budget discussion, the commissioners authorized the solicitor to begin the process of obtaining a Tax Anticipation Note (TAN) in the amount of $3 million.
A TAN is a short-term note for a state or local government to issue with expectations of repayment with imminent tax receipts.
A TAN provides state and local governments with the ability to stabilize cash flows and to proceed with bills and projects immediately rather than waiting to have cash in-hand.
The commissioners obtained a TAN last spring and closed it out by late summer. McCracken said they planned to do the same this year, except they wanted to have the TAN available in January.
The commissioners have already received one TAN proposal, and Sobel said other financial institutions plan to submit proposals, as well. The commissioners will consider all received proposals.