Mazziotti called that budget very troublesome and unsustainable.
Rather than raising taxes, he said the administration proposes closing the deficit by spending $10 million of the $25 million in the county’s stabilization fund, also known as its emergency or rainy day fund.
Mazziotti said that money also is used to operate the county until the first tax bills are paid in May. “During that period we go through about $20 million.” He said taking $10 million out of that stabilization fund would put the county below its cash flow needs.
He said the county essentially will be spending money out of its savings account to finance the 2014 budget “and we’re spending 40 percent of it in one year.”
Cutting medical benefits for the same-sex spouses of county employees was one of 15 proposed amendments to cut the proposed budget considered by commissioners Wednesday. Nine of them were presented by Mazziotti. Three were withdrawn.
Scheller, chairwoman of the commissioners, praised Mazziotti for thoroughly going through the budget.
Only one of Mazziotti’s amendments failed. He proposed eliminating a total of $1 million by requiring all county departments to cut their budgets by less than one percent.
Commissioners voted 5-4 against it, after County Sheriff Ron Rossi said he would be forced to discontinue all security in the county government center and District Attorney Jim Martin said he would lose an assistant district attorney.
Voting with Mazziotti for that failed amendment were Schware, Creighton, and Dougherty.
Mazziotti did not keep a tally of all the approved amendments, but after more than three-and-a-half hours of debate, it appeared the commissioners reduced the $10-million deficit in the proposed budget by nearly $3 million
Commissioners unanimously voted to eliminate the county’s vacant chief of staff position, saving $128,244. But most of the budget-cutting amendments were not passed so smoothly.
Some of the other cuts generated by amendments:
Commissioners voted 5-4 to reduce funding to the county emergency communications center by $100,000, despite D.A. Martin saying the center is “absolutely critical” to law enforcement and public safety throughout the region Voting to keep that money in the budget were Dougherty, Osborne, Jones and McCarthy.
Commissioners voted 5-4 to reduce funding for the new Regional Crime Center by $250,000, despite appeals by Martin, Whitehall Police Chief Linda Kulp and Bethlehem Deputy Police Chief Todd Repsher. “It’s very important that this incredible system stays up and running so we can garner the information we need to keep the public safe,” said Repsher.
“Please don’t cut the system. It’s invaluable to public safety.”
Voting to keep that funding in the budget were Dougherty, Osborne, Jones and McCarthy.
Commissioners voted 6-3 to cut the county’s I-T personnel budget.
Creighton, who proposed that amendment, said the county has 33 employees on its I-T staff, about one for every 60 county employees.
The $308,657 cut could reduce the I-T staff by three or four employees. Jones, McCarthy and Ott opposed that cut.
Commissioners voted 6-3 to reduce funding for court administration by $146,335, which would fund four tip staff positions. President Judge Carol McGinley, Court Administrator William Berndt and Martin were unable to dissuade the majority from eliminating that money from the budget. Jones, McCarthy and Osborne voted no.
The commissioners are scheduled to do a final vote on the 2014 budget at their next meeting at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 23, which will be preceded by a 7 p.m. public hearing on the amendments they made Wednesday.
They held a public hearing on the proposed budget before their regular meeting Wednesday night.
Cunningham was the only person who addressed them during that hearing, about medical benefits for same-sex couples.