News Column

Cambria cash woes resurface

January 30, 2014

By Kathy Mellott, The Tribune-Democrat, Johnstown, Pa.

Jan. 30 -- EBENSBURG -- A year-end budget battle between Cambria County officials resurfaced Wednesday with word that a vendor would fill no further orders from the county prison until at least some of its outstanding bill was paid. In an email to the prison, a representative with Berhorst Crawford of Bridgeville , a food vendor, said the company would no longer ship to the prison until it received a check for a minimum of $14,024 from the county. Cambria County Controller Edward Cernic Jr . said he borrowed some money from an agency and paid the minimum payment. "We did not pay December's bill and we did not pay January's bill," Cernic said, explaining the payment demand. "We've never been cut off for food. We've had people calling, but we've never been cut off." President Commissioner Douglas Lengenfelder said that the bills would not have to be held if Cernic would agree to tap into some of the $3 million on balance in the employee health care fund. "There is no agreement stating that we can't borrow from it," he said. The $5 million tax-anticipation loan floated at the first of the year has been used, prompting Cernic to lament that the county should have borrowed the $10 million it historically borrows at the beginning of each year. But the $5 million loan floated by the commissioners at the end of 2013 was needed to pay off the 2013 tax-anticipation loan and limited what the county could borrow. "A part of the agreement with the bank was that we borrow just $5 million in tax anticipation and not go further in debt," Lengenfelder said. Lengenfelder said he is confident the county will be better off financially at the end of 2014 by using a different approach to financing. "We knew we were going to be tight, but we will be less tight at the end of the year than we would have been," he said. The plan calls for the county to repay the $5 million loan at mid-year and see a savings in interest. Cernic fears the county is digging itself into a financial hole it cannot escape. Meanwhile, part of the immediate cash flow problem is a delayed payment from the state for Children & Youth Services. The $1.6 million transfer should have come through Jan. 16 , and as of noon Wednesday, it had not been received. An additional state payment for $1.9 million should arrive on Friday. Cernic said the money is needed to add to the $700,000 balance he has toward the $1.1 million payroll payment due Tuesday. "We're going to make payroll," Lengenfelder said. Word of the notice from the food vendor surprised Warden John Prebish . "A lot of our vendors realize that there are problems at the end of the year," he said. He added that the prison did go "a little over" budget for 2013, but there were times when his inmate population was almost 100 more than planned. "You've got to feed them," he said. And as for the health care fund, the battle may be just heating up. Cernic said the money is a trust fund and he's not tapping into it. "They'll have to take me to court," he said. "Let those on the second floor decide this." Lengenfelder's response: "If push comes to shove, the commissioners will sit down and talk about it." Kathy Mellott covers the Cambria County Courthouse for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow her on /kathymellotttd. ___ (c)2014 The Tribune-Democrat (Johnstown, Pa.) Visit The Tribune-Democrat (Johnstown, Pa.) at Distributed by MCT Information Services

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Source: Tribune-Democrat (Johnstown, PA)

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