GOP House budget bill threatens county funding

The Centre County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday passed a resolution opposing spending cuts proposed in the Pennsylvania House Republican budget bill that would eliminate almost $800,000 in funding from the county.

In April, the Republican-majority House passed the GOP bill 114-84 with a strong party line vote. Rep. Rich Irvin, R-Spruce Creek Township, said the bill is aimed at addressing the state’s projected $3 billion deficit by cutting about $250 million of government spending.

After the bill passed, the Centre County commissioners office in conjunction with the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania began identifying how the cuts would affect the county if the bill becomes law.

The initial review by CCAP and the county identified combined criminal justice funding cuts of about $500,000 from adult and juvenile probation, intermediate punishment, county trial reimbursement, senior judge reimbursement, court interpreter grants, county court reimbursement and juror costs.

As the county worked its way through the more than 350-page bill, almost $300,000 of funding cuts to human services and emergency management services were discovered, which brings the total amount the county could loose to almost $800,000.

“We’re rapidly approaching a $1 million cut to the Centre County budget and several of these items are mandated by the state,” Commissioner Mark Higgins said. “The county must provide these services whether we receive funding or not. These cuts would have very serious effects on the citizens of Centre County.”

If the bill is passed in its current form, almost $5 million would be cut from the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency budget. Centre County would lose about $120,000 in disaster relief funding because of the cut. The funding is used as match dollars for federal and state grants that are applied for in the event of disasters and emergencies, such as the major flooding that affected the county in October.

Richard Flinn Jr., director of PEMA, said in a statement that if the bill is passed, repair efforts in counties damaged by the October flooding would likely not be completed.

The bill also proposes funding cuts to human services, such as child welfare and protective services, mental health services, substance abuse treatment, homeless assistance and meal programs. The county could lose almost $200,000 for these services.

The resolution the board passed will be sent to state legislators as well as Gov. Tom Wolf.

The bill is in the state Senate, where negotiations are ongoing. The state legislature and the governor have until July 1, the start of the fiscal year, to finalize a spending plan, but Higgins said there is an opportunity for county residents to have their voices heard on the bill.

“I have spoken with all four state representatives from Centre County or their staffs,” Higgins said. “They’ve listened attentively and told me they are willing to be persuaded if enough Centre County citizens contact them.”

Leon Valsechi: 814-231-4631, @leon_valsechi