Hearings set on county budget
?No community college can take these kind of draconian cuts,? said County Councilman William Robinson, at right.
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In most years, Allegheny County's budget process draws little interest as departments and programs receive a little more or a little less money than the previous year.
But this year, with state and federal funding cutbacks and flat local revenue, county Executive Dan Onorato's proposed $730 million budget cuts spending about 5 percent and includes substantial reductions in human services and the county's subsidy to Community College of Allegheny County.
As a result, officials are predicting a heavy turnout at public hearings that begin next month.
County Councilman William Robinson heads council's budget and finance committee and doubles as chairman of CCAC's board of trustees. He said proposed cuts put students' education and the institution itself at risk.
"No community college can take these kind of draconian cuts," he said. "How can we educate students and train workers for the future?"
Mr. Onorato's proposed operating budget calls for cutting $19 million from the department's Office of Children, Youth and Families while the county's contribution to the community college would be cut by $7 million. All other county departments, except for the Kane Hospital nursing homes, would see their budgets trimmed as well.
The $37 million overall drop in spending would eliminate the need for a property tax increase and would reduce staff only through attrition and not require layoffs.
Under the county charter, the chief executive is required to present a "comprehensive financial plan" each fall to council. Council members have the final say on budgets and taxes.
Support for the community college should be divided equally among students, the state and the county, which is the sponsoring agency, Mr. Robinson said. Students, who saw a fall tuition increase with another scheduled in January, are doing their part, he said.
The state, which cut its support this year by $3.5 million, and the county, which previously trimmed its contribution by $2.5 million, are not living up to their obligations, he said.
Council has scheduled budget hearings for 4 p.m. on Nov. 9 and 10 in the Gold Room of the county courthouse, Downtown. Members of the public who sign up at least a day in advance will have three minutes to comment on the spending plan.
Anyone interested in speaking at the hearings can sign up on council's home page at www.alleghenycounty.us/council. The "request to comment" tab is on the left-hand side of the page. Residents can call 412-350-6490 for more information or can sign up in person at the courthouse, 436 Grant St., Room 119.
Council is likely to take final action on the spending plan and set tax rates for 2012 at its Dec. 6 meeting, but that might not be the final word.
Because 2011 is a municipal election year, with candidates for the county executive's job and several council seats on the ballot, officials could reopen the budget in January if they wish. The county charter provides a 35-day window for making amendments to the spending plan after the new fiscal year begins Jan. 1.
Council would have to hold at least one public hearing on any budget changes.
First Published October 31, 2011 12:00 am