Commissioners Hear Update on Justice Center Construction, Agricultural Preservation Program
Updates were the order of the day as the Bucks County Commissioners conducted business Wednesday, January 23 in the Courthouse Community Room. In addition to approving 32 contract resolutions involving 14 county departments and tabling one item for the Recorder of Deeds office, Commissioners Robert G. Loughery, chairman, Charles H. Martin and Diane M. Ellis-Marseglia, LCSW were briefed on two significant endeavors.
Before Chairman Loughery and Commissioner Martin approved four change orders for the Justice Center construction (Commissioner Marseglia dissented on all four items), county Director of Operations Jerry Anderson offered a "general update" on the Justice Center construction. He estimated the project at 37 percent complete, as structural steel should top out during the second week of February - weather permitting. At this juncture, 300-plus workers, all of whom have been e-verified for eligibility to be on the job site, are engaged on the site. He noted that concrete and partition work is proceeding at the bottom levels of the building, even as the penthouse floor on the Shewell Ave. side of the Justice Center is taking shape. The center stair tower, dubbed "The Feather" by those monitoring the project, will top out in April of this year.
Mr. Anderson explained that the original $84 million General Construction contract with Ernest Bock & Sons, Inc. of Philadelphia currently stands below 1 percent in terms of change orders. Chairman Loughery commented on that number, adding that most projects undergo change orders early in the process - which bodes well for the county during upcoming months. Commissioner Martin asked Mr. Anderson and his staff to prepare another change order for the February 6 Commissioners' Meeting - detailing the cost of a scaled-down 5th floor (judicial courtroom and conference room space).
The commissioners unanimously approved a $2.5 million annual allocation from the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture to continue the county's popular Agricultural Land Preservation program. Since 1989, the program has preserved 155 farms totaling 13,260 acres and currently boasts a waiting list of 55 farms. According to Agricultural Land Preservation Director Rich Harvey, the state's "1-to-1 match" will allow the program to continue working on 8 farms for 2013 as it moves toward a goal of 17,000 preserved acres by 2017. To date, $128 million has been expended on the program - a breakdown of 24 percent municipal funding, 29 percent county funding, and 47 percent state funding. "I would like to thank you (commissioners) for your support and commitment," Mr. Harvey stated.
Chairman Loughery asked Mr. Harvey questions about the long-term future of the farms enrolled in the Agricultural Land Preservation program. The farms are inspected once a year, and many of them emphasize locally grown produce through markets and pick your own offerings. The commissioners plan to discuss ways to help preserved farms remain viable and sustainable.
For Emergency Communications, the board approved a $53,645 contract with Advantage Engineers, LLC of West Chester, PA for Tower Structural analysis on seven county owned towers for the ongoing "narrowbanding (700MHz)" radio project. They also unanimously approved a radio agreement between Bucks County and eight county municipalities. According to county Emergency Services Director Scott Forster, the goal of the radio agreement is to "build a common operating picture" that will allow municipal emergency coordinators to communicate directly with 9-1-1 Emergency Communications personnel in Ivyland. The agreement allows for field equipment that will be utilized during disasters and other emergencies.
For Human Services, the board approved a four-year, $259 million contract with Magellan Behavioral Health of Pennsylvania, Inc. of Newtown to provide behavioral health services through Dec. 31, 2016. In addition to her dissenting General Services votes, Commissioner Marseglia voted against the purchase of 30 Fujitsu table PCs for use by county Children & Youth case worker staff and against three Finance Department contracts for Excess Workers Compensation, Excess General Liability and Excess Auto, and for Property insurance.
Chief Operating Officer Brian Hessenthaler updated attendees on plans to conduct the county's employee dependent audit, which was approved earlier this year. The approximate 6,000 health plan members - employees and dependents - each cost the county an average of $4,700 annually for coverage. Mr. Hessenthaler explained the verification process for dependents, which will include birth certificates for minors, and utility bills, credit card statements, and modified tax returns for adults. He stressed the online security of the process, which will be similar to filing IRS electronic documents. He also noted that one employee already has come forward with a dependent who is not eligible for coverage - creating an instant savings from the new program.
County Health Director David Damsker provided a brief update on the flu season, which appears to have peaked over the last couple weeks. He told attendees that free flu shots are available from the Health Department by calling 215-345-3318. He also advised residents to remain diligent and "get your flu shot every year, because you never know what kind of season it will be."
The next meeting of the Board of Bucks County Commissioners will take place at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, February 6, 2013, in the Community Room (1st Floor) of the Bucks County Courthouse, 55 E. Court St., Doylestown, PA 18901. For a complete audio account of the January 23 meeting, please visit the official county website, www.BucksCounty.org, and click on the "Audio from Last Mtg" link on the home page.