Wednesday, July 23, 2014

County faces cash shortfall as year winds down

October 08. 2013 11:59PM

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Luzerne County government often ends the year with a cash shortfall, and this year will be no different.

The county faces about $29 million in payroll and debt repayments through the end of the year in addition to bills from vendors who supply goods and services to the county, Interim Budget and Financial Services Division Head Donna Magni told county council Tuesday.

The county has about $15 million in the bank and is expecting $875,000 from back-tax collections, which means funds must be borrowed from other county agencies to cover remaining year-end obligations, Magni said. The loans would then be repaid in early 2014, likely using a traditional tax anticipation loan designed to cover expenses until property tax revenue rolls in.

Magni said Children and Youth owes the county several million dollars, but the department’s state reimbursement might not come in before the end of the year. The county also could generate around $4 million with a cash advance on back taxes owed to the county — an option called monetization that was included in the 2013 budget, she said.

Magni said her office is working with county Manager Robert Lawton on a plan to address the issue.

County Councilman Rick Morelli had questioned Lawton about the anticipated cash shortfall at a recent council budget work session, and former county Controller Walter Griffith raised the issue at Tuesday’s meeting. Griffith said county officials should publicly disclose whether they plan to borrow funds, lay off employees or monetize.

Local attorney Lori Ogurkis also made an emotional presentation about the rewards of foster parenting and adoption during the on-the-road meeting at the Hazleton Area Academy of Sciences in Butler Township.

Ogurkis urged county officials to increase marketing to encourage more people to adopt foster children and to provide more resources to Children and Youth caseworkers who investigate alleged abuse and facilitate adoption.

Lawton told council Children and Youth Director Frank Castano submitted his resignation Tuesday, the day after he was hired as human resources administrator in the Wilkes-Barre Area School District.

The county also never filled management positions overseeing drug-and-alcohol and mental health, and interim Human Services Division Head Mary Dysleski, who is in charge of all these departments, is transitioning to a new county position managing the wills and deeds offices, Lawton said.

A professional recruiter will be retained to identify qualified applicants for the division head position, and Lawton said he is speaking with representatives of a professional group with experience in state government and other jurisdictions to complete a structural analysis of the entire human services system before the end of the year.

This consultant would be paid with savings from the unfilled positions, he said.

Lawton said a “major reorganization is absolutely necessary” in the “back offices” of these departments because the $90 million human services operation must commit all available resources to direct services.

In other business, council appointed Heather Nelson, Forty Fort, and Margaret Steele, Mountain Top, to the county’s Workforce Investment Board.

Wilkes-Barre Township resident Alex Milanes, who unsuccessfully ran for county council in the May primary, was appointed to the authority overseeing the Mohegan Sun Arena.

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