Commonwealth Court says county judge overstepped authority with municipal funds

By Jim Boyle | May 23, 2014

The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court settled a budget dispute between the Bedford

The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court settled a budget dispute between the Bedford

County Commissioners and President Judge Thomas Ling of Bedford County Court of Common Pleas by unanimously deciding that the judge could not prevent the reimbursement of more than $200,000 in funds used to pay supplemental incomes for probation officers.

The disagreement grew over the maintenance of Bedford County's Supervisory Fund, which was created in accordance with Pennsylvania's Crime Victims Act, requiring the treasurer of every county to "establish and administer a county offender supervision fund consisting of fees collected under this section.”

According to the statute, funds may be paid by the county treasurer under the direction of the county's president judge of the court of common pleas, and the money could only be used to pay salary and benefits for the parole and probation officers and operation expenses. Half of the fees collected went to the county, the other half to the state. The court opinion states that Bedford County collected between $75,000 and $80,000 a month.

In 2002, Bedford County began a practice where the county director of finance made supplemental income payments to parole and probation officers, i.e. money in addition to their regular salary, out of the general fund. Once the payments were made, the director submitted the paperwork to the president judge, who reimbursed the general fund out of the supervisory fund. The same setup was used to create a new position, assistant to the director of the parole office, with salary paid by the general fund and reimbursed by the supervisory fund.

According to court documents, the general fund expenses began to outpace the supervisory fund reimbursements in 2007, and continued to grow after Ling's appointment to president judge in 2010.

In March 2011, the Bedford County commissioners stopped making the supplemental payments out of the general fund, followed a few months later by Ling ceasing all payments from the supervisory fund to the general fund. Finally, in 2012 Ling issued a court order directing all supplemental payments to be made out of the supervisory fund, plus any salary and overtime payments for the chief probation officer and his assistant, bypassing the county commissioners.

An affidavit by the Bedford County finance director showed that between 2006 and 2012, supplemental payments were made out of the general fund in the amount of $690,131, of which only $453,289 had been reimbursed, leaving a $246,842 shortage in the budget.

The Commonwealth Court agrees with the county that Ling has the authority to disperse money from the supervisory fund at his own discretion, however he does not have the power to avoid reimbursing the general fund for amounts advanced at his own discretion.

"Because those expenses were incurred with the prior authorization and directive from the president judge of Bedford Court of Common Pleas, through the chief parole officer," wrotr Judge Kevin Brobson, "the county treasurer would be acting well within her lawful authority to distribute existing monies within the Supervisory Fund to reimburse the county for that incurred expense."

More News

The Record Network