Onorato advises spending cuts, no tax hikes

Human services would see $19M hit under budget

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County Executive Dan Onorato has proposed a 2012 financial plan that calls for no increase in property taxes but would require big cuts in spending.

The budget ax under his plan would fall most heavily on human services and the Community College of Allegheny County.

Mr. Onorato presented his comprehensive financial plan Tuesday evening to county council, which has the final say on spending.

His proposed operating budget for next year totals $730 million, down about $37 million, or 5 percent, from this year's $768 million.

Spending for human services would take the biggest hit, dropping about $19 million.

The community college would see its county allocation decline by $7 million.

Mr. Onorato said the proposed reductions result primarily from large cuts in state and federal funding that have helped in past years to support county programs and operations.

He pledged no layoffs among the county's workforce of 5,225 people but said about 120 jobs, about 2 percent of current employment, would be eliminated through attrition. That number should be easily reached, he said, because between 200 and 250 people retire from county service each year.

"Our revenues will be down big-time, and our expenditures are coming down to match that," Mr. Onorato said during a briefing for reporters Tuesday afternoon. "This plan reflects the new reality of reduced state and federal funding."

All departments with the exception of the county's nursing homes, known as the John J. Kane Regional Centers, would see cuts under Mr. Onorato's spending plan.

Spending for human services is the largest single account in the budget, totaling $179 million this year. That number would drop more than 10 percent to $160 million next year.

After the 2011-12 state budget cut various payments and grants to Allegheny County by $15 million, Mr. Onorato decided to withhold $2.5 million in county money from this year's CCAC allocation. The community college also lost about $3.5 million in state funding. The college reacted to those moves with a hiring freeze and a second tuition increase.

Mr. Onorato's plan to cut county support for CCAC even more dismayed Councilman William Robinson, D-Hill District. Mr. Robinson is chairman of council's budget committee and chairman of CCAC's board of trustees. He called the proposed $7 million reduction -- from $22 million to $15 million -- "unacceptable."

Council President Jim Burn, D-Millvale, said the root of the county's looming financial problems could be found in the Republican-backed state budget, which slashed support for education and human services.

Councilman Vince Gastgeb, R-Bethel Park, said deep, painful cuts in 2012 could have been avoided if the Onorato administration had trimmed spending in earlier years, knowing that federal stimulus funding would be available for only one or two years.

It is unlikely that all current human services programs are beneficial, efficient and lead to lower crime rates and fewer social problems, he said. "It's time to look at all these programs and see which ones are working."


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