The short-term borrowing Erie County uses to pay bills could increase to the highest level since the county emerged from a budget crisis in 2006.
Early projections from the comptroller and budget offices estimate that the county will need to borrow $110 million to pay expenses as it waits for reimbursements and other revenue to arrive later this year.
“We are being very cautious, conservative, yet responsible in sounding the alarm on this,” said Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw, who took office Jan. 1. “It’s very important to share this information.”
The county, on average, has borrowed $77 million a year through short-term loans known as revenue anticipation notes during the last decade. The loans are used to bridge the gaps between when bills come due and revenue arrives. In 2005, as the county emerged from a budget crisis that at one point ground spending to a halt, that borrowing increased to $160 million, then $110 million in 2006.
The amount the county will need to borrow for 2013 will become clearer later this year, but the first cash flow report issued by the Comptroller’s Office for the year shows that it could be noticeably higher than in the last six years.
The report completed last week estimated that the county will need to borrow $125 million as the county hits a cash shortage in July. That estimate was lowered Monday after staff in the Budget Office and the Comptroller’s Office identified additional revenue that will help the county’s cash flow.
“We’re hoping as we go through it further we can reduce it even more,” said County Budget Director Robert W. Keating.
The county, which has a $1.4 billion budget, relies on federal and state reimbursements to pay for many large social service and other programs. Those reimbursements can slow the payments by several months.
Mychajliw cited several factors that will impact the county’s cash flow this year. They included $29 million in state-required payments for Erie County Medical Center that were pushed from 2012 to this year, as well as $3.4 million for signing bonuses and raises included in two recently approved union contracts that will impact the amount of cash the county has on hand.
County officials earlier this month asked the state to delay a payment for ECMC that was due last week because the county did not have the cash to pay the bill. It will make that payment in March.
Last year, early projections pegged short-term borrowing for 2012 at $40 million. Instead, the county borrowed $75 million with the help of the Erie County Fiscal Stability Authority, the state-mandated control board, to cover expenses.