With projected revenue losses in taxes and the responsibility to continue providing services, many Pennsylvania counties are finding themselves under tremendous financial stress. On Tuesday, Centre County Commissioners voted to cut staff, a decision that affects about 100 positions across dozens of departments.
“We were not the first by any metric and we’re not going to be the last,” said Centre County Commissioner Michael Pipe. About 20 other counties in the commonwealth have decided to lay off or furlough employees since the coronavirus pandemic began. The state government also furloughed 9,000 employees.
Effective Friday, some Centre County employees will work reduced hours, dozens will be temporarily furloughed and some positions will be left unfilled. Pipe said the county will continue providing health benefits to workers.
“Unfortunately, this was a decision none of us wanted to make, but we believed it was the best thing at the time for the long term success of the county,” Pipe said.
Departments affected include the Commissioner’s office, the Treasurer’s office, offices of the Public Defender, the District Attorney and the Sheriff. The Coroner’s office, the Centre County Correctional Facility, 911 dispatchers and human services are not affected.
Pipe said there will be no reduction in services from the county, which was one of the factors in the process of deciding where to make cuts.
On top of worries over losing state funding, the county is also looking at potential property tax losses, especially since the county granted a three-month delay on penalties for missed payments. Pipe said the county does not expect to get much help from Congress’s CARES Act.
“We’re unable to say, at this point, what our finances are going to look like,” Pipe said. “Because there’s such uncertainty.”
Like Pipe, Bradford Mayor James McDonald said furloughing two thirds of his city’s nonessential workers is an unavoidable choice in this situation.
“We felt that we needed to be fiscally responsible, that we would take the opportunities to reduce an almost certain budgetary shortfall now rather than waiting till the end of the year,” McDonald said.
Bradford furloughed 18 city employees about two weeks ago, which McDonald said will save the city between $55,000 to $60,000 a month. Those employees are eligible for unemployment compensation and will maintain their health benefits from the city.
McDonald said he hopes the federal stimulus package can offer workers some assistance, especially with the additional $600 weekly unemployment benefit.
“Our only saving grace right now is we know that just about every city and town across the country is in the same boat as we are,” McDonald said.
More than 1.4 million Pennsylvanians have filed for unemployment in the past month, according to the state Office of Unemployment Compensation. Across the nation during the same period, a total of nearly 22 million jobless claims have been filed.