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2015 News

Bucks County Government 2014 Year in Review: Prudent Progress and Sound Fiscal Management

January 2, 2015

Bucks County government achieved several milestones during 2014, a year framed by a pair of coveted “Triple-A” bond ratings and the gradual completion of the new, 285,000-square-foot Bucks County Justice Center Bucks County Justice Centerat 100 N. Main St. in Doylestown Borough. For the third consecutive year, Robert G. Loughery served as chair of the three-member Board of Commissioners. Under Chairman Loughery’s guidance, the County’s adopted 2015 operating budget again held the line on property taxes for the residents of Bucks County. Also, for the second consecutive year, the County forecast a budget surplus for 2014.

On December 17, 2014, at the Bucks County Conference and Visitors Bureau, Commissioners Loughery, Charles H. Martin and Diane M. Ellis-Marseglia unanimously approved the $393.9 million operating budget for 2015. A copy of that budget is available for public review on the official county website, www.BucksCounty.org.

Chairman Loughery highlighted the challenges County government has faced during recent years, obstacles that have been addressed through workforce reduction, a gradual increase in the General Fund balance, and a retirement plan that is more than 99 percent funded. That calculated fiscal approach also sets the groundwork for future budgets given a recent decrease in revenue and an “extremely difficult (financial) environment.”

“The bottom line is that in eight out of the last nine years there has been no increase for the taxpayers of Bucks County,” Commissioner Martin stated. “That is due to a lot of hard work.”

The past year also featured the affirmation of Bucks County’s first-ever Aaa bond rating by Moody’s Investors Service. Additionally, Standard & Poor’s Rating Services raised its rating on Bucks County, from AA+ to AAA, the highest rating. Standard & Poor’s based their decision on the county’s “very strong economic profile, very strong budgetary flexibility and a strong management team.”

The county now holds AAA ratings from two of the largest credit rating agencies in the country. Bucks County is one of three AAA rated counties in the state, and is among a select group of counties in the country that have two AAA ratings. The commissioners joined Chief Operating Officer Brian Hessenthaler to praise Director of Finance and Administration David Boscola and his team for securing the S & P upgrade. In its report S & P cited the strong local economy with a diverse property tax base, dedicated county management, solid financial practices and budgeting procedures that take into account short-term and long term challenges and conservative investment policies as being key factors in the change in rating.

Other broad themes for the year included final-phase construction of the county’s new Justice Center in the heart of Doylestown Borough, the continuation of multiple commissioner initiatives related to economic development, ongoing preservation of farmland and open space, the closeout celebration of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Elevation/Buyout Program along the Neshaminy Creek basin, public safety initiatives such as the first-ever Courthouse “Active Shooter Drill,” and public health initiatives related to the worldwide Ebola scare and seasonal flu protection. Below is a closer look at the year 2014 in Bucks County government:

 

 JUSTICE CENTER NEARS COMPLETION

President Judge FinleyDuring early January, the Bucks County Court of Common Pleas selected the Hon. Jeffrey L. Finley to a five-year term as president judge. Judge Finley took over for the Hon. Susan D. Scott, who served the County of Bucks in that capacity since 2008.

President Judge Finley has been a member of the Court of Common Pleas since 2005, specializing in criminal and administrative proceedings, as well as juvenile court cases. He is a graduate of Central Bucks East High School, Temple University and Loyola School of Law. He worked in the Bucks County District Attorney’s office from 1981-85, and he was a partner at Doylestown law firm Eastburn & Gray during his 20-year tenure there (1985-2005).

One of President Judge Finley’s most significant responsibilities is guiding the transition to the new Justice Center. By the end of the year, the Justice Center project had reached substantial completion. Plans for January, 2015 include the long-awaited dedication and ribbon cutting for the facility, as well as the move across Main St. for more than 500 court-related employees.

The project, for which construction began in June, 2011, is the largest capital endeavor in Bucks County annals. It also will create the opportunity to move some outlying county departments into the current Courthouse/Administration Building in phases over the next several years.

Moravian Pottery and Tileworks piece in the Justice CenterThe new building features the latest in audio-visual and security technology, including almost 300 video cameras situated throughout the facility. Electronic video boards will provide courts schedules. Each of the new courtrooms has conference rooms for lawyers and their clients. The building also provides for separate entrances for inmates and the general public and a state-of-the-art Sheriff’s holding area.

Designed by world-renowned architectural firm H.O.K., the eight-story Justice Center also pays homage to the County owned and operated Moravian Pottery and Tile Works. Tiles and mosaics produced at the nearby tile works on Swamp Rd. are featured prominently in the lobby and hallways. They include tiles that are representative of each of Bucks County’s 54 municipalities.

Another highlight of the building is the restored walls and fireplace from the 1909 Doylestown Armory, which were painstakingly preserved by workers during the construction process.

Township tiles from the MoravianPottery and TileworksThroughout the year, the commissioners debated multiple change orders related to the building, some of which will be addressed as part of an “errors and omissions” list before the project is concluded.

During 2015, work will continue on the building’s exterior features, which will include a memorial designed in collaboration with the Travis Manion Foundation and a beam from the former World Trade Center in Manhattan.

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT INITIATIVES: VC4BC

On January 24, the Bucks County Retirement Board and Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania (BFTP/SEP) announced the Venture Capital for Bucks County (VC4BC) program. VC4BC is a partnership to invest $4 million in emerging and growing companies, located in or willing to locate in Bucks County, who are developing and commercializing advanced technologies. The announcement was made at the Pennsylvania Biotechnology Center of Bucks County. 

“VC4BC is a public/private co-investment partnership, where every Bucks County pension dollar is matched by Ben Franklin. The partnership is part of our new Bucks2Invest initiative, intended to create a one-stop shop for economic development in county government, while increasing the amount of government assistance for businesses,” said Commissioner Chairman Loughery.

During December, 2014, Ben Franklin finalized agreements with two companies through the VC4BC Program. They included $75,000 for CRO Analytics, which offers the only on-line validated performance data collection system independent and objective capable of capturing thousands of performance assessments; and $187,000 for OrthogenRx, which is a late stage product development company focused on the commercialization of generic Class III orthopedic medical devices.

FARMLAND AND OPEN SPACE PRESERVATION CONTINUES APACE

On December 17, the preservation of two farms lifted the Agricultural Land Preservation total to 174 farms comprising 14,571 acres since 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 highlight of the August 13 “Grange Fair meeting” business agenda was the preservation of two substantial farms. The first, the Hager/Haney property, “is a gorgeous farm,” according to County Agricultural Land Preservation Director Rich Harvey. A panoramic farm that features views of Hunterdon, Lehigh and Northampton counties, the farm is the “signature farm” of the 2014 preservation cycle. It also is significant in that it will help a fifth generation to farm a property that grows hay, corn and wheat and raises beef cattle. Members of the Hager/Haney families were in attendance as the farm was preserved (the County contributed $881,505 plus settlement charges). At 195.89 acres, it is the fifth largest farm preserved since the program began in 1989. The program goal remains 17,000 acres by the end of 2017.

The commissioners also voted unanimously to preserve the 70.64 acre Wayne and Nancy Tretter Long farm in Plumstead Township. The County contributed $317,888 plus settlement charges to preservation, which is located adjacent to Rte. 413 in Pipersville. The farm’s business is called Durham Crest Nursery, which markets hay, straw and corn in addition to nursery plants.

Also during the August 13 meeting, Chairman Loughery announced the formal rollout of the “Taste & Tour Bucks County” program. He noted that the loan program is intended to use repurposed dollars to assist agriculture and tourism in the County. He stated the intent to “meet what we think are the needs of the marketplace.” He also pointed to the nearly 15,000 preserved farm acres as a reason to support the Taste & Tour venture. “We’ve made a big investment (in the agricultural community,” he added. Information about the Taste & Tour venture is available through the Bucks County Industrial Development Authority website, www.BucksCountyIDA.com.

The July 17 annual night picnic meeting included approval of four Municipal Open Space Program grants – including $214,500 for a 44.7-acre parcel in Richland Township on behalf of Delores Devery and $33,750 for a 9-acre parcel in Richland Township on behalf of Brian and Kathleen Devery, $30,000 for improvements at Silverdale Borough’s 2.75-acre W. Albert Reese Park, and $375,000 for a 34.71-acre parcel in Upper Makefield on behalf of Barbara Zimmerman. According to County Open Space Coordinator Dave Johnson, the Zimmerman property is a significant preservation because it features rare Class I soils and has two tributaries of Jericho Creek.

NRCS CLOSEOUT CELEBRATION ALONG THE NESHAMINY CREEK

On October 28, near several houses that had been elevated along the Neshaminy Creek in Middletown Township, the commissioners joined Congressman (and former commissioner) Mike Fitzpatrick to tout the many achievements of the $27.3 million Natural Resources Conservation Service public safety effort.

“It’s good to be here to recognize and celebrate a very, very successful home elevation program,” Chairman Loughery stated. “This is a process that started long before I was here. The purpose of this program was to help the flood victims who have suffered many, many damaging effects along the Neshaminy Creek.”

The elevation program included 10 elevation contractors, three demolition companies and five engineering firms. To date, it has facilitated 47 property buyouts and 85 home elevations, affecting a total of 132 residences that used to lie directly in harm’s way.

Commissioner Martin, who has served on the board since 1995, traced the history of the elevation project through the last three decades. He also pointed out that the elevated homes held up well during Superstorm Sandy – which hit New Jersey in 2012. He thanked those involved with the effort through its duration, including NRCS officials, elected politicians and County officials. The County administration of the project was spearheaded by the General Services department, former Quality Assurance Administrator Richard Manna, and current General Services Deputy Director Kevin Spencer. Commissioner Martin also thanked Executive Director of Parks and Recreation Bill Mitchell, Planning Commission Executive Director Lynn Bush and members of the Bucks County Conservation District (BCCD).

“It’s really nice to be able to celebrate a government project that actually worked,” Commissioner Martin told an audience that included project engineers and others involved with the endeavor. “This was a great cooperative effort between the federal government and the county government, which enabled us to elevate and buy out properties. Flooding has been a historic Bucks County problem.”

COUNTY OFFICIALS TARGET HEROIN/DRUG PROBLEM IN THE COMMUNITY

On Friday, March 7, 2014, Bucks County District Attorney David Heckler joined Assistant DA Matthew Weintraub and other members of the District Attorney’s office to launch a Heroin Prevention Outreach initiative.

“We asked ourselves, ‘With limited resources, what can we do that’s smart and will make a difference?’ “ Mr. Heckler told a crowd of print, internet and electronic media members. “There are three ways to attack this problem – 1) educate the public; 2) eliminate the supply of drugs; and 3) prosecute dealers through the use of anonymous tip lines.”

To that end, the DA office has set up three methods of alerting law enforcement officers about heroin activity in Bucks County. The first is a telephone line: 1-215-345-DRUG (3784). The second is an e-mail address: drugtips@co.bucks.pa.us. The third, geared to the millennial generation is a text tip line: simply text BUCKSDRUGTIPS to TIP411.

“It’s time to stop being passive, and time to start being aggressive,” stated Assistant DA Weintraub. “We want to take the public by the throat, because without the public’s help we can’t win. That’s paramount. Enough is enough. If you know something, tell us.”

The drug prevention outreach effort also includes a community task force that meets monthly and hosts town hall meetings, as well as a highly successful Medication Take Back Program that leads the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in annual collection totals.

COURTHOUSE ACTIVE SHOOTER DRILL UNITES FIRST RESPONDERS

On the morning of Saturday, May 3, the Bucks County Courthouse and Administration Building provided the scene for the County’s first-ever “Active Shooter” drill. Police, fire, emergency medical, Courthouse Security and Sheriff’s deputies tested protocols in the event someone infiltrates the building with a loaded weapon. Also participating were Commissioner Chairman Loughery, President Judge Finley, Chief Operating Officer Hessenthaler and Chief Clerk Bush. 

Adding reality to the proceedings was a group of intrepid criminal justice students from the Middle Bucks Institute of Technology. Before the first of two scenarios was conducted, they were costumed with bullet holes and other realistic victim details

Another aspect of the event was collaboration with Doylestown Hospital, which would be a critical partner if residents or employees were ever wounded in the Courthouse. The close proximity of the hospital is certainly a positive factor in Bucks County emergency planning.

The drill was videotaped using “Go Pro” cameras donated by the California video company, allowing participants to analyze the results and make adjustments where needed. Overseeing the command were Warminster Police Chief Jim Donnelly, County Emergency Services Director Scott Forster, Central Bucks Regional Police Chief Jim Donnelly, Central Bucks Regional Police Sgt. Paul Kreuter and Central Bucks Ambulance Chief Chuck Pressler. The exercise culminated four weekend trainings that took place during the month of February. It included an “after action review” at the Doylestown Fire Company on Shewell Ave., where the participants enjoyed lunch and a chance to discuss the morning’s developments. The day’s lessons will be utilized in the current building – and in the new Justice Center.

NESHAMINY MANOR DEDICATES UNIQUE MOSAIC WALL 

Celebrating a project that was 12 years in the making, Bucks County Commissioners Loughery, Martin and Ellis-Marseglia joined Neshaminy Manor residents, administrators and family/friends to dedicate a unique “Mosaic Wall” on October 21. The 40-by-15 foot wall consists of thousands of hand-painted tiles, each created by residents – past and present – of the award-winning, 360-bed long term care facility.

“Over the last 12 years, the names have changed,” stated Kathy Bates, Therapeutic Recreation Director at Neshaminy Manor. “But, everyone connected to the arts and the Gardens at the Manor continue to be a big part of what you see here today.”

The project, which creates a centerpiece for the C1 Courtyard at the facility, came to fruition through the coordination of Bates and tile artist Katia McGuirk. Commissioner Martin praised the effort as a tribute to private fund-raising efforts, which included a $25,000 anonymous gift and were augmented by several federal and state government grants. 

CHANGES IN COUNTY MANAGEMENT PERSONNEL 

During their May 7 business meeting at Delaware Valley College, the Board of Bucks County Commissioners unanimously appointed Chalfont resident Jonathan E. Rubin to the position of director of human services. In that capacity, Mr. Rubin will oversee the largest portion of the county workforce – including the Area Agency on Aging (AAA), Children & Youth Social Services Agency, Mental Health/Developmental Programs, and Behavioral Health. On an annual basis, the Human Services budget represents just under half of the county operating total.

A 1987 graduate of Penn State University, he spent almost two years as a social worker for the Bucks County Children & Youth Social Services Agency (1990-92), nearly nine years as a child protective services supervisor at the agency (1992-2001), and almost four years as a child protective services manager (2001-2005).

County Health Director Dr. David Damsker added the role of department head for the Neshaminy Manor long-term care nursing facility. Dr. Damsker now leads a division that includes two of the county’s largest departments.

Also, on Monday, July 28, 2014, Roger Collins joined the County of Bucks as director of housing and community development. Mr. Collins came to county government following 12 years as executive director of the Bucks County Opportunity Council and service on many boards, including the former Commissioners’ Economic Development Advisory Board (EDAB).