CLEARFIELD – Clearfield County’s drug epidemic, as well as the rise in crime and inmate population, are directly to blame for the $1,587,136 deficit in the commissioners’ first run of the 2019 general fund budget.
According to Chairman John A. Sobel, the county has the option of raising real estate taxes by 2 mills. However, he said that would only partially address the deficit, with a projected $699,772 in additional revenue.
“It would still leave a deficit of $887,364,” he said, noting this would also put the county at the maximum of 25 mills, or what can be legally levied for general fund purposes without approval by the Court of Common Pleas.
Sobel said the budget shows significant increases in expenses related to the courts and operational costs for the Clearfield County Jail brought on by a steady increase in prison inmate population that started back in 2016.
According to information provided by the commissioners, historical trends before 2016 showed typical daily inmate population numbers around 130 that occasionally spiked to around 150.
Starting in late 2016, the daily inmate population numbers started to rise above 150 and then eventually climbed to as high as over 200 inmates during the current-year.
With inmate population numbers this high, Sobel said it became necessary to house the overflow population in the Jefferson County Prison at a cost of $55 per day for each inmate.
Sobel said the increased inmate population not only causes significant increased costs at the jail for medical care, meals, transport, overtime and out-of-county housing, it also increases costs and workload for all court-related departments.
Additionally, he pointed out the unprecedented number of homicide cases that are pending in Clearfield County. He said prosecuting, defending and incarcerating these defendants are putting an even greater strain on finances.
Commissioner Tony Scotto said the belief that a jail expansion would resolve the jail- and court-related budget problems is false, and the cost burden – an estimated $10 million – would fall directly upon Clearfield County taxpayers.
According to Scotto, a debt service on a $10 million jail expansion would cause an additional 3-mill debt service tax levy on all annual tax bills that would stay in place until the debt is paid off in 15 to 20 years.
Commissioner Mark B. McCracken said that in addition to the debt service, a larger jail would increase the daily operational costs, including additional staffing and utility costs necessary to run the larger jail facility.
Sobel noted that the increase in criminal activity causes an increase in cases and corresponding costs for Children and Youth Services. This, he said, is most common in drug-related cases involving defendants with children.
“The increase in crime, coupled with additional cases and involvement by Children and Youth Services, is a direct driver of increased costs for Clearfield County Government and, ultimately for county taxpayers,” Sobel said.
The following is a list of specific budget line item increases related to the increase in inmate population, crime, drug-related deaths and a 47 percent increase in county general fund allocation to Children and Youth Services:
|Category||2018 Budget||2019 Budget||Increase|
|Jail Out-of-County Inmate Housing||$82,850||$300,000||+$217,150|
|Jail – Food Service/Inmate Meals||$290,000||$380,000||+$90,000|
|Jail – Inmate Medical Expenses||$200,000||$280,000||+$80,000|
|Transfer to Domestic Relations||$379,343||$467,392||+$88,049 ?|
|Transfer to Children & Youth Services||$1,215,697||$1,785,532||+$569,835|
|Courts – Contracted Services||$85,000||$110,000||+$25,000|
|Courts – Special Counsel Criminal||$79,000||$90,000||+$11,000|
|Courts – Transcriptions||$19,000||$27,000||+$8,000|
|Coroner Post Mortem/Autopsies||$140,000||$170,000||+$30,000|
|Budget Increases Driven By Increases In Crime/Inmate Population||+$1,241,534|
McCracken indicated the budget also included $190,000 allocated for new voting equipment mandated by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania – Department of State, to be in place for the 2020 presidential election year.
While the expected cost for the new voting equipment will likely fall between $500,000 and $1.3 million, he said the initial plan is to do a lease/purchase agreement for the new equipment over a five- to -seven-year period rather than outlay the entire cost in the 2019 budget year.
McCracken did state there is some expected state funding to help offset the expense.
County Employee Salaries
McCracken said collective bargaining agreements in place prior to 2019 call for salary increases of 1.5 percent to 2.5 percent on average for union level positions. Most non-union/salaried positions show an increase of $750 per employee.
Elected row officers will receive no salary increase for the 2019 year and have not received any salary increase since 2011. The exception is the District Attorney’s salary, which will see the annual increase as mandated by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
Medical Insurance Benefit Costs
McCracken said medical insurance premiums are rising about 2.6 percent, but explained the overall cost increase for medical insurance is offset by an estimated $125,000 in employee contributions toward health insurance benefit costs.
Also, in April, he pointed out that $250 individual/$500 family deductibles and increased co-pays were implemented for non-union/salaried employees and elected row officers.
The commissioners said many of the elected row officers and appointed department heads submitted budget proposals with little or no increases in operational costs over their 2018 department budgets.
“In spite of the efforts of individual departments and a 2-mill tax increase to the maximum 25 mills that can be levied for general fund purposes, the initial 2019 budget still has a deficit of $887,364,” Sobel said.
“… Unless there is a viable plan presented to greatly reduce the inmate population or other significant cuts can be found within the budget, the county may have to consider cuts to non-mandated services and staffing to balance the 2019 budget.”
The final budget will likely be presented for tentative consideration at the Nov. 27 commissioners’ meeting with final consideration at a special meeting in mid- to late-December.