Returning to the Bucks County Visitors Center in Bensalem for its annual holiday business meeting on Wednesday, December 16, the Board of Bucks County Commissioners perpetuated another tradition – not raising property taxes for the residents of Bucks County. For the fourth consecutive year and ninth in the last 10 (dating back to December, 2006), Commissioners Robert G. Loughery, Charles H. Martin and Diane M. Ellis-Marseglia, LCSW passed a zero tax-increase operating budget for the next year. The final 2016 figure of $402.566 million met unanimous approval from the board members during consideration of its contents.
“It’s amazing that we can do it, and the state (Commonwealth of Pennsylvania) can’t,” Commissioner Martin said, referring to the Commonwealth budget impasse which stands at nearly half a year. Chairman Loughery and Commissioner Marseglia thanked Chief Operating Officer Brian Hessenthaler, Director of Finance and Administration David Boscola and Deputy Finance Director Russell Rice for their work during the lengthy budget preparation process. Chairman Loughery also expressed appreciation to the courts departments and row officers for their roles. The 2016 County operating budget is linked to the home page of the official website, www.BucksCounty.org.
The meeting also was noteworthy for the sendoff of 36-year Bucks County Treasurer Bill Snyder, who will be retiring at the end of the year as one of the longest tenured elected officials in the county’s 333-year history. Chairman Loughery read a retirement commendation to honor Mr. Snyder, who also received his long-standing name plate from public meetings as a souvenir. “We all know the turbulence of politics and government,” Chairman Loughery stated. “We all seem to get whipped around. Very few are able to stay the course. Bill has done so with dignity. That is an incredible accomplishment.”
Mr. Snyder reflected on nearly four decades of County service by saying, “I’ve enjoyed every day of my life working at the County. I’ll be 87 (years old) on March 1 (2016).” Mr. Snyder added that the County “was like a big family to me.”
Jerry Lepping, executive director of Visit Bucks, welcomed the meeting attendees and invited all to enjoy the 25 decorated trees that are part of the annual Holiday Tree Festival. They adorn the lobby of the Visitors Center. Mr. Lepping also announced the 24 recipients of the December, 2015 Tourism Grant program, which is funded by tourism lodging fees. Over the last eight years, the program has provided more than $2.7 million for Bucks County non-profits in the tourism field.
The business portion of the agenda featured the approval of 51 contract resolutions involving 15 County departments – nearly half of them related the Mental Health/Development Programs (MH/DP). The one-year MH/DP agreements totaled approximately $15 million, including $2.79 million for Sellersville’s Penn Foundation for mental health services, $4.63 million for Doylestown Lenape Valley Foundation, and $1.89 million for Wood Services of Langhorne to provide residential and day program services. Chairman Loughery noted that the 22 MH/DP agreements are awaiting approval of a state budget as well.
For Children & Youth Social Services, the commissioners approved a one-year, $643,704 contract renewal with Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Bucks County in Jamison to provide counseling and case management services for adolescents and a one-year, $540,000 contract renewal with the Neighborhood First Program, Inc. of Bristol to provide mentoring and monitoring for youth and juvenile offenders.
In the General Services realm, the commissioners continued to focus on county-owned bridge work with the approval of a $1.3 million signature authorization and execution of supplemental agreement with PennDOT Engineering to increase funding for the replacement of County Bridge No. 45 located on Stoney Bridge Rd. in Bedminster Township.
For Housing & Community Development the board signed off on a 12 ½-month, $350,000 contract with Interfaith Housing Visions for the management and operations of the organization’s properties. The commissioners also accepted a $130,023 grant renewal for the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
County Open Space Coordinator Dave Johnson provided an update on that program along with the approval of four contracts involving municipal projects. For Newtown Borough, the board approved $224,306 for a Municipal Open Space Improvement Grant for 75 percent of the Newtown Commons property. According to Mr. Johnson, the property was laid out by Pennsylvania’s founding father William Penn and served as a place to water livestock in the 17th and 18th centuries. For Riegelsville Borough, the commissioners authorized $223,535 for a Municipal Open Space Improvement Grant to construct a 7,500-foot stone trail and trail related amenities. That pedestrian trail will be 10-feet in width.
A third Open Space contract involved a $111,150 allocation for a conservation easement on the 15.6-acre Wernett property in Springfield Township. According to Mr. Johnson, 26 of the County’s 54 municipalities have used their full Open Space funding allocation from the 2007 Open Space Referendum, while 13 have used none of the funding to date. The County continues to work with municipalities to address their needs.
The meeting also included a proclamation to the Tree of Hope, which is the County’s official symbol of recovery. The 18-foot tree is located in the Administration Building rotunda, and it is adorned with ornaments honoring those who have battled the ravages of addiction. In addition, County Recorder of Deeds Joseph Szafran honored 18-year-old Boy Scout Andrew Widmeier for his role in assisting World War II veteran Joseph Marchese during the recent Honor Flight trip to Washington D.C. Mr. Marchese suffered a heart attack during that trip, and Andrew helped to alert doctors and secure treatment that saved his life.
The next meeting of the Board of Bucks County Commissioners will take place at 11:30 a.m. on Monday, Jan. 4 in the Bucks County Administration Building (reorganization meeting), 55 E. Court St., Doylestown, PA. For a complete audio account of the December 16, 2015 business meeting, please visit the official county website, www.BucksCounty.org, and click on the “Audio from Last Mtg” link on the home page.