At Tuesday’s meeting, Democratic candidate for Clearfield County Commissioner Dave Glass told the Clearfield County Commissioners he believed a report presented at a recent meeting concerning an audit of the county’s 2018 financial records may have misrepresented some of the county’s financial facts. He also expressed concerns about the board recently hiring a Harrisburg-based firm to help prepare the county’s 2020 budget.
A representative of the county’s auditing firm, Zelenkofske Axelrod LLC, Pittsburgh, gave a report at the commissioner’s Sept. 24 meeting.
“I thought the auditor was trying hard to put positive spin on the audit by emphasizing the good, and not mentioning some of the bad. That’s not his job, he should have presented all the relevant facts on both sides of the ledger,” Glass said.
Glass told the board he found the report incomplete.
“Yes, it’s true that the county currently has no debt — but we also have many capital project needs. The county jail and the courthouse both demand attention. At some point soon, we will have to take on debt to effect needed repairs at both locations. Isn’t it better to acknowledge that, so the public understands that it’s coming? Isn’t it better to start building the capital reserve now, to prepare for the inevitable?,” he asked.
Glass said he was concerned about points in the audit not presented by the auditor.
“The auditor mentioned the budget deficit somewhat in passing, but he did not put that into proper context,” Glass said. “With a 2018 deficit approaching $1 million, and the end of year general fund balance at about $3.9 million, the general fund was reduced by more than 20 percent. The unrestricted balance appears to be down almost 40 percent.”
Glass told the board the audit notes both the county’s operating reserve and capital reserve were reclassified into the general fund.
“From reading the audit, it appears this money was added to the unrestricted fund,” Glass said. “That’s $625,000 dollars into the fund — which has the effect of making that fund look much bigger than it really is. That should have been noted publicly, along with the fact that due to this change there is effectively no reserve fund at all.”
Glass also expressed concern about the commissioner’s recent decision to utilize an outside contractor to help prepare the 2020 tentative budget.
“We’re in the middle of a serious budget crunch, we are telling local agencies to do more with less and we cannot all work together to get this done in-house?” Glass asked. “Worse yet, we aren’t even paying a local firm, we are sending this money out of county? I know there’s some tension between offices due to the budget pressure, but you were all elected to deal with hard problems. I am asking everyone involved in the county budget process to put aside any personal animosities, sit down in the same room, and work together for the good of the county.
Friday, the commissioners provided a written response to The Progress addressing Glass’ apprehensions.
The commissioners response stated, “The recently completed audit from Zelenkofske Axelrod LLC is a clean audit that shows Clearfield County’s government is in good financial standing across all funds with a positive fund balance of $3.9 million. While it is correct the $3.9 million fund balance at the end of 2018 is down from $4.2 million at the end of 2017, it is notable that the unassigned or available cash portion of the fund balance actually increased from $353,958 at the end of 2017 to $1,718,117 at the end of 2018.
“It is correct that the 2018 audit shows a deficit. However, the deficit was caused directly by cost overruns in two areas – the county’s jail due to inmate overpopulation, and Children and Youth Service conducted additional family investigations. Cost overruns at both the jail and CYS are directly attributed to the increase in crime and drug abuse and are controlled by decisions made by the courts which the county commissioners have no control over.”
“Concerning the no debt status that Clearfield County currently enjoys,” the commissioners said, ‘We believe it is fiscally responsible to keep the county out of debt unless absolutely necessary. Reserves cannot be built up by going into substantial debt. That’s simple math.”
“The last major long term borrowing done by Clearfield County was around 2010 for the Administration Building project. In recent years, two major maintenance projects, exterior painting and brick façade repair, were done on at the Clearfield County Courthouse. More recently, the furnace and boiler system was replaced. All projects were paid from out of available cash reserves.
“In early 2020, the county is mandated to buy new voting equipment. There will be some state reimbursement for this purchase, but unfortunately, most of the cost will rest on the shoulders of the county’s taxpayers.”
The response also stated, “Candidate Glass commented on a minor correction made by auditors, Zelenkofske Axelrod LLC, that resulted in $625,000 being placed in the correct reporting column as required by general accounting standards board rules. Any opinion that these funds were transferred to bolster the county’s general fund balance is false. It can be verified that these funds were included in every annual audit as part of the total balance of all county government funds. They simply had been incorrectly listed since 2010 in prior annual audits under total non-major funds and should have been listed under general funds. The current auditors simply corrected an accounting error made by those previously responsible for the same.
About candidate Glass’s concerns with the county contracting with a budget consultant, the commissioners stated, “Several weeks ago, County Controller Tom Adamson informed the commissioners his office would not assist with preparation of the 2020 county budget. While it has been long standing practice in Clearfield County for 20 years for the controller to be involved in the budget process, there are no provisions in the County Code requiring the controller’s involvement.
“With receiving short notice, we investigated options available to fill the void in the budget preparation process and identified Susquehanna Accounting & Consulting Solutions because of its assistance to a number of counties, including neighboring Jefferson County, on budgeting and financial matters. It has not been determined if the company’s involvement will be just for the 2020 budget preparation or will be an ongoing relationship into the future.
“As for candidate Glass’s concern that county officials aren’t working together, the commissioners assure county residents that all elected officials of both political parties and all appointed department directors, with the exception of Controller Adamson, are working together, as in prior years, to complete the 2020 Clearfield County budget. Budget hearings are scheduled for Oct. 16-18 and the commissioners, with assistance from Susquehanna Accounting & Consulting Solutions, will complete a 2020 budget document that will be presented and adopted on time.”
The commissioners concluded the response by noting, “Clearfield County and the board of commissioners is fully transparent with all financial records. The 2018 audit is available for anyone to review and the 2020 budget document will be on display on the county website as soon as the tentative budget is adopted in a few weeks.”
A DuBois attorney was found in contempt of court for allowing her client to respond to a motion in divorce court.
LaVieta Lerch of DuBois was representing a woman in a divorce case when on Aug. 3. 2018 Judge Paul Cherry ordered her client to turn over all documents sought by the husband’s attorney.
Instead of submitting a response herself, Lerch let her client respond to the request, pro se, or on her own.
In her response the wife refused to disclose the requested information or documents giving responses such as, “It does not have any bearing on court proceedings and is absolutely no one’s business.”
She also made personal attacks and allegations against her husband.
Attorney Lea Ann Heltzel, who represented the husband, then filed a motion to compel and asked for sanctions and attorney’s fees.
A hearing was scheduled for Sept. 13, 2018 before President Judge Fredric J. Ammerman to hear the motion, as Cherry was on vacation.
At the Sept. 13 hearing Heltzel said she received additional documents that morning but they were inadequate and identified the documents she needed.
Heltzel also produced Lerch’s client pro se response to her Aug. 3 motion.
Lerch admitted her client had filed the response saying her client wanted to write a response.
“I find this response to be extremely unprofessional, and I really can’t believe that this is how you would respond to (Heltzel’s) request. Is this how you practice law? This is unprofessional,” Ammerman said.
Ammerman then ruled that Lerch was in contempt of court and ordered her to pay attorney fees of $1,500, which he later lowered to $900.
Lerch filed an appeal to the Pennsylvania Superior Court challenging Ammerman holding her in contempt of court but didn’t challenge the attorney fees. Lerch claimed a party’s counsel should not be held personnally responsible for obtaining documents from their client.
On Sept. 3, the Pennsylvania Superior Court upheld Ammerman’s ruling.
Superior Judge Carolyn Nichols wrote the opinion for the court.
“Regardless, the trial court acted within its authority to sanction counsel under Rule 4019,” Nichols wrote. “With respect to Attorney Lerch’s argument that counsel can never be personally responsible for obtaining documents from her client, we disagree.”
The three judge panel also included The Honorable John T. Bender and The Honorable James G. Colins.
A potential juror was sent to jail after showing up for jury selection while intoxicated on opioids.
According to court documents, on Oct. 3, Roger Michael Cantara of Winburne (age not listed) showed up for criminal jury selection as a member of the jury poll.
President Judge Fredric J. Ammerman was speaking to the potential jurors when he noticed a male slumped over that appeared to be sleeping.
Cantara was awoken by court staff and was told by Ammerman he needed to stay alert and listen to instructions like everyone else.
Cantara stayed awake for about a minute before falling back asleep.
Again court staff had to wake up Cantara and Ammerman again reminded him that he needed to stay awake and listen to instructions or things wouldn’t go well for him.
Shortly afterwards, Cantara again fell asleep. Ammerman then instructed sheriff deputies to take Cantara to the probation office for drug testing.
Cantara tested positive for oxycodone and marijuana.
Cantara admitted to smoking marijuana but denied taking oxycodone. However, he said he used pain medication that a friend had given him and it could have had oxycodone in it.
Cantara also apologized for falling asleep, stating he has a lot going on in his life and hasn’t been sleeping well.
Ammerman found Cantara in contempt of court for failing to follow the court’s instructions to perform the duties as a prospective juror and sentenced him to three days in jail.
Cantara asked if his commitment could be delayed but Ammerman refused and ordered him be taken to jail immediately.