Returning to the Bensalem Township home of Visit Bucks County Dec. 17 for their traditional end-of-the-year business meeting, the Board of Bucks County Commissioners had a gift for the taxpayers again this December. For the eighth time in the last nine years, the commissioners held the line on property taxes, prompting Chairman Robert G. Loughery to observe that he is “particularly proud of the work” done by the county administration on behalf of himself, Commissioners Charles H. Martin and Diane M. Ellis-Marseglia, LCSW, and more than 625,000 residents of Bucks County.
The commissioners’ unanimous approval vote enacted a $393.915 million operating budget for 2015. The budget features a projected $275,800 general fund balance increase, a stable tax millage rate of 23.200, and an ongoing eye to cost containment. “There were a lot of challenges we faced, and faced well,” Chairman Loughery told a crowded auditorium at the Visit Bucks County visitors’ center. “We have been able to hold the line on taxes another year.” The chairman also thanked Chief Operating Officer Brian Hessenthaler, Director of Finance & Administration David Boscola and all County employees involved in the four-month budget process during a time of declining revenues.
As has been the case with previous budgets, the county’s Health and Human Services Division accounts for the largest portion of the proposed 2015 operating budget, or 46 percent ($220.2 million); departments covering public safety account for 30 percent ($142.4 million) of the total.
Visit Bucks County Executive Director Jerry Lepping welcomed meeting attendees, reminding them to enjoy the 25 brightly decorated holiday trees in the lobby of the facility. Mr. Lepping also announced the recipients of the bi-annual tourism grant program, which distributed $202,000 to various non-profit agencies throughout the county.
The budget approval was the highlight of a business session that lasted nearly two hours and included resolution items for 24 County departments. The meeting opened with Commissioner Martin remembering longtime Lower Makefield Supervisor Pete Stainthorpe, who passed away this week at the age of 62.
Commissioner Martin enjoyed the honor of proclaiming Dec. 17, 2014 “Holy Ghost Prep Back-to-Back State Soccer Champions Day” throughout the county. Members of Coach Ken Lawson’s 2014 PIAA Class AA champion squad posed with the board in recognition of their Nov. 15 title victory over Lancaster Mennonite in Hershey, PA. Firebirds’ leading scorer Michael Kirby thanked the commissioners and praised his teammates for their season-long resilience. Holy Ghost trailed in both the semifinal and championship games before prevailing.
The business portion of the agenda included the preservation of two farms, lifting the County Agricultural Land Preservation total to 174 farms comprising 14,571 acres cine the program’s 1989 inception. The commissioners agreed to pay $334,602.50 plus settlement charges for the County’s portion of a 78.73-acre easement on the John w. and Mary D. Budd farm. Located on Traugers Crossing Rd., it is a property situated near more than 1,000 previously preserved acres. According to County Agricultural Land Preservation Director Rich Harvey, artifacts such as arrowheads and spears dating back 10,000 years have been unearthed on the Budd farm.
The commissioners also voted to preserve the 23.56 acre Paul and Katherine Poore farm on Fretz Valley Rd. in Bedminster Township. The County’s portion of the easement is $35,333.25 plus settlement charges and adjustments. The Poore farm is a soybeans and wheat growing entity.
A proposed $157,240 contract to implement an imaging system for County contract and accounts payable invoices with IMR Limited of Camp Hill, PA earned conditional approval. The board asked for additional input about the agreement from the Solicitor and Information Technology departments.
The majority of the agenda was dedicated to General Services contracting change orders relating to the new Bucks County Justice Center – which will open for business next month. A total of 27 contract adjustments with project general contractor Ernest Bock & Sons, Inc. earned approval. They ranged from a $216,000 increase for additional work on concrete walls to a $15,000 credit for deletion of the perimeter curb detail. The board also approved a five-year, $221,600 contract with Bucks County Water and Sewer Authority to provide sewer service at the Justice Center and Parking Garage. Also in the General Services realm, the board renewed a one-year, $300,000 contract with Carroll Engineering Corporation of Warrington for bridge consultant services.
For Human Resources, the board signed off on a two-year, $1.147 million contract renewal with United Concordia Companies, Inc. to provide dental coverage to eligible employees and their dependents. That contract takes effect January 1, 2015.
The commissioners also approved eight contracts for the Neshaminy Manor long-term care facility, including a one-year, $1.722 million increase and extension with The Wood Company (a wholly owned indirect subsidiary of Sodexo Operations, LLC) to provide dining services to residents.
Commissioner Marseglia voted against a one-year, $235,000 contract with Arthur J. Gallagher and Co. of Mt. Laurel, NJ to provide consulting services with respect to health and welfare benefits. Commissioner Martin abstained on a 15-month, $40,000 Human Services contract with the United Way of Bucks County to provide a Community Needs Assessment.
Chairman Loughery announced the 20 members of newly formed Housing Advisory Board, which will be co-chaired by Housing and Community Development Director Roger Collins. The board will formulate solutions for “more permanent housing stability” in the county, reporting back to the commissioners during the fall of 2015.
The next meeting of the Board of Bucks County Commissioners will take place at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, January 7, 2015, in the Bucks County Courthouse Community Room (1st Floor), 55 E. Court St., Doylestown, PA 18901. For a complete audio account of the November December 17, 2014 business meeting, please visit the official county website, www.BucksCounty.org, and click on the “Audio from Last Mtg” link on the home page.