Positive Allegheny County budget outlook could face challenges from opioid crisis, state mass transit funding cuts

Positive Allegheny County budget outlook could face challenges from opioid crisis, state mass transit funding cuts

Author: Stephen Caruso/Wednesday, October 18, 2017/Categories: Pittsburgh

Allegheny County is spending within its means for 2017, but issues like the opioid crisis and the fate of transit funding in Harrisburg, could cause trouble for a future balanced budget. 

The county only avoided a shortfall this year due to additional state funding for the Department of Human Services, according to county officials speaking to the County Council's Budget and Finance Committee Wednesday afternoon. 

The committee also heard from Deputy County Controller Amy Wise, who presented a to-date financial report showing the county sticking to its yearly budget in most other areas. 

However, before diving into the numbers, Allegheny County Manager William McKain and Director of Budget and Finance Mary Soroka told the council that the county had received an extra $30 million from the state to cover funding for the county's Department of Human Services. 

The state had automatically assigned the funding to the county department, which does provide services for drug and alcohol abuse, when it noticed the shortfall, according to McKain and Soroka. 

The revelation led Councilman and committee chairman Paul Klein (District 11) to ask for clarification. 

“Is the elephant in the room the opioid crisis?” Klein asked. Soroka was noncommittal in addressing if the crisis had caused the shortfall, but noted that the wave of overdose and addiction cases could be far reaching and affect all levels of government. 

“As we pay more attention to [opioids]...we’re going to find this will be a challenge,” Klein said after the meeting. 

According to the Controller’s report, DHS had spent 70.8 percent of their budget through 67 percent of the year. Overall, DHS spending was up by $7.8 million, or 6.1 percent. 

The rest of the budget report showed the county spending within its budget, according to Wise. The county overall was projecting a 6.2 percent increase in its unassigned general funds, up $3.1 million to $44.6 million. Wise said that’s above the threshold most agencies want to see when assigned credit ratings. 

However, one thing she brought forward was the status of transit funding. While the county contributed $35 million this year to the Port Authority, the state provides $241.8 million in funding, according to the authority’s FY2017-2018 budget. 

Meanwhile, as budget negotiations drag on in Harrisburg, one compromise floated by the state legislature involve cutting $80 million from the Port Authority as part of wider transit cuts. 

With such cuts, Wise said that the holding onto the county’s $14.4 million rainy day fun for transit would probably be a good move. 

“The fund balance remains strong, but this is always a volatile area,” she said.