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Cambria County controller concerned about county's financial future

By Maria Miller

CAMBRIA COUNTY, Pa. -- Just three months after Cambria County received a clean audit report, the county controller is painting a grim outlook for the rest of the year.

Ed Cernic says county funds are quickly diminishing as unpaid bills are piling up, and he's blaming most of the problem on improper budgeting by current and former commissioners.

"In my 10 years here, this is actually the worst year that I've ever witnessed," said Cernic.

Cernic is worried about the financial future of Cambria County. There's just $5 million left in this year's general fund and $16 million in unpaid bills.

"We have never had to start borrowing money from agencies, and we've never had to get a late payment of bills this early in the year," said Cernic.

He said it was a combination of overspending, population decline and improper budgeting over several years that got the county into a bind. He said he understands the current commissioners are not entirely at fault, but they're not doing enough to fix it.

"Maybe you're not borrowing loans or bonds, but by not having those bills paid by the end of the year, we keep rolling that snowball over," said Cernic. "The snowball may be too big to handle this year."

"Most people have paid their taxes by now, and that's what the county relies on," said Cambria County commissioner Mark Wissinger. "From sometime in September to the end of the year, it's usually pretty tight. It was last year, and I expect it to be this year, as well."

Commissioners Wissinger and Doug Lengenfeleter tell 6 News they are concerned but don't consider the county to be in a dire position just yet.

"I mean, it's not like we're not watching it," said Wissinger. "We know come mid-October we'll have a lot better opportunity to see just what we have to do in the last two months of the year."

"We will have this type of problem for several years to come," said Lengenfelder. "It wasn't created overnight and it's not going to go away overnight."

Lengenfelder said Cambria County isn't the only county that shifts dollars around at the end of the year to make payments. He said commissioners are trying to avoid taking out more loans and raising taxes and said he's confident the county is on the right path.

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Edgar Snyder

Washington Times