Somerset County approves $42.3 million budget for 2015

From left are Somerset County Commissioners John Vatavuk, chairman; Joe Betta, vice chairman; and Pamela Tokar-Ickes, secretary   Somerset County

Somerset County commissioners approved a $42.3 million budget for 2015 last week, which represents approximately a 3.1 percent increase over 2014.

In a letter addressed to county residents, Commission Chairman John Vatavuk, along with Vice Chairman Joe Betta and Secretary Pamela Tokar-Ickes, highlighted cuts in state and federal aid as a main obstacle to the budget process this year. About $13.7 million, or about 32 percent, of the county's revenue comes from intergovernmental aid.

About $18.6 million, or about 44 percent, of revenue comes from the general fund. This year, commissioners opted to use about $1.1 million of county reserves, rather than increase taxes, to balance the budget.

Commissioners said the state continues to be strict with its financial projections, putting added pressure on the county to continue the same level of service to residents.

“With heavy reliance on state reserves and federal dollars to balance prior years' state budgets, and looming costs on the horizon for transportation and pension obligations, counties across the state are bracing for difficult years ahead,” the commissioners' letter said.

Nearly 40 percent of the budget, or about $16 million, goes to “judicial-related” costs, which include court administration, the clerk of courts and the district attorney.

Commissioners said “difficult decisions will be made” next year when it comes to county operations.

“Our challenge will be to minimize the impact on county funds currently budgeted while maintaining critical services to the residents of Somerset County,” commissioners said.

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