Sunday, July 27, 2014

County fuzzy on ’12 budget

March 14. 2013 10:56PM

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Luzerne County officials have cited problems with last year’s general fund operating budget, but it’s still unclear if the county broke even or ended the year with a deficit or surplus.

County Councilmen Rick Morelli and Edward Brominski have been pressing county Manager Robert Lawton for an answer, with Brominski requesting a report by Tuesday’s council meeting.

Lawton said Thursday he and his staff still are scrutinizing all payments and receipts logged at the start of this year to determine if they should be tied to last year’s budget. He is attempting to provide a response by Tuesday, he said.

“A report is meaningful only when the information is complete and confirmed,” Lawton said. “As a professional manager, I prefer to wait until all the facts are in rather than offer an uninformed opinion.”

The county Controller’s Office prepared a report on all general fund operating budget payments and receipts tracked in the county’s financial software system between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31 last year. Controller Walter Griffith said the report, prepared at Brominski’s request, indicates the county spent $1.5 million more than the $122.6 million budgeted and had a $2.9 million revenue shortfall.

Griffith acknowledged the financial software doesn’t present a complete picture but said the dollar amounts might indicate the county still isn’t operating within its means.

“We’re still spending more than we’re bringing in. We still didn’t make all the tough decisions,” said Griffith, adding that he believes the administration is taking too long to “close the books” for 2012.

Lawton stressed the financial software system, which is in the process of being replaced, has “limitations” and presents “incomplete information.”

“It would be imprudent to draw conclusions based on the controller’s report from the current financial system,” he said.

Lawton has described last year’s budget as “unrealistic,” in large part because it allocated $170,000 for a day reportingcenter that costs around $1 million.

The county’s $122.25 million 2013 budget contains a $4.3 million void that will be filled by seeking a cash advance on unpaid delinquent taxes if necessary. Lawton has said he will continue seeking other cuts and new revenue to avoid or reduce the amount of this cash advance because of the fees involved.

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