Police incident at Walmart in York County: Breaking news

Counties consider suing state for funds

Greg Gross

As York County continues to dip into its $20 million line of credit, the association that represents Pennsylvania counties is exploring legal options to get crucial funding released from the state as a budget impasse nears the five-month mark.

The County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania gave its legal counsel the go-ahead to research litigation to require the release of state and federal funds to counties and prevent future state budget impasse-induced threats to key human services, according to a news release from the association.

But Doug Hoke, York County vice president commissioner, he's not 100 percent on board taking up litigation.

"I'm always hesitant of one government taking legal action against another government," he said, pointing out taxpayers are typically left picking up tabs for legal expenses for both sides.

President Commissioner Steve Chronister said it appears a budget deal is imminent, and bringing a lawsuit now may be too late in the game.

"To go that far with it right now would be mistake," he said. "Maybe this should have been thought about two months ago to start pressing them."

Loans: Counties rely on tens of millions of dollars in state and federal funding to offset costs for human services. Counties, along with school districts, non-profit organizations and other agencies have been without state and federal funding since Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf vetoed the GOP-crafted budget at the end of June.

York County took out a $20 million credit line last month to cover costs through the end of the year. The unexpected expense will be covered once a budget is passed, but associated fees and interest will come from county taxpayers.

So far the county has drawn down $5 million in funds to cover payroll and other costs, and to pay vendors for services they provided in July, said Mark Derr, the county administrator.

The county is poised to withdraw another $3 to $4 million to pay vendors for additional overdue bills in the coming days, he said.

"It would be nice if they'd (lawmakers and the governor) get some of this resolved," Derr said.

Withholding: The association's legal experts are also exploring what legal ramifications counties could incur for stopping remit funds, money collected at the county level for the state, during an impasse and allowing that money to be used for essential local services.

On Tuesday, Bucks County announced it has stopped sending those tax dollars to state coffers. That diverted millions of dollars toward county-run human services.

Hoke said keeping those tax dollars is an option that might be worth exploring in York County.

"It certainly would be an option if it (the impasse) doesn't get resolved," he said.

However, Commissioner Chris Reilly said withholding tax dollars from the state could lead to legal problems for the county.

"I don't think it's worth the hassle at this juncture," he said.

— Reach Greg Gross at ggross@yorkdispatch.com.