The Board of Bucks County Commissioners convened on the morning of Wednesday, January 20 in its spacious new meeting room on the first floor of County Administration Building. In the absence of Commissioner Vice Chairman Charles H. Martin, Chairman Robert G. Loughery and Commissioner Diane M. Ellis-Marseglia, LCSW passed a considerable slate of business – including significant Agricultural Land Preservation, Human Resources, Children & Youth Social Services and Area Agency on Aging (AAA) contract resolutions.
During a meeting that lasted just 30 minutes and featured no proclamations, commendations or public comment, the commissioners reaffirmed their commitment to the County Agricultural Land Preservation program by approving the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, Bureau of Farmland Preservation’s annual allocation of $2.5 million (to be submitted to the state). According to County Agricultural Preservation Director Rich Harvey, that submission should leverage a total of $5-5.5 million that will allow Bucks to preserve 600-700 acres of farmland during 2016. Last year, the County crested the 15,000-acre milestone and has continued to build on that total. Mr. Harvey noted that his office received 11 new farm preservation applications during 2015 and currently has 50 farms on the waiting list. “We are continuing our strong commitment to preserve Bucks County farms,” Chairman Loughery said.
The current Agricultural Land Preservation total for the Bucks County program – which dates back to 1989 and has been bolstered by two highly popular open space referendum questions – stands at 186 farms comprised of 15,445 acres. By Mr. Harvey’s projection the program should reach 16,000 acres this year.
For the Area Agency on Aging (AAA), the commissioners approved a one-year, $602,700 contract with Metz Culinary Management, Inc. of Dallas, PA to provide congregate and home-delivered meals to clients. That contract is funded at 49 percent from the federal government and 33 percent from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
The Children & Youth portion of the agenda included 16 items ranging from a one-year, $612,550 contract renewal with Ivyland’s Bucks County Housing Group to provide shelter services, a one-year, $253,360 contract renewal with Langhorne’s Family Service Association of Bucks County to support various programs, a one-year, $236,500 contract renewals with Family Service Association to support shelter operations, and a one-year $280,000 contract renewal with Warrington’s K/S Consultants, Inc. to provide the Truancy Prevention/Diversion program. Chairman Loughery questioned County Human Services Director Jon Rubin about the truancy program, which Mr. Rubin said assisted 111 youth last year (only three of whom wound up placed out of their own homes).
The commissioners also addressed one additional agreement with Family Service Association, which operates the largest homeless shelter in Bucks County (New Falls Rd. in Levittown). That contract is a $150,000 resolution to appropriate funds for housing and emergency shelter services.
For the Finance Department, Commissioners Loughery and Marseglia approved three items that will allow the County to capitalize on its “Triple-A” bond ratings to re-finance a 2008 bond series. Eastburn & Gray, PC of Doylestown will be the bond underwriter’s counsel at a fee of $10,000, while Hill Wallack LLP of Yardley will serve as bond counsel for the new bond issue at a cost of $22,000.
The big ticket item on the Human Resources agenda was a $32.066 million contract renewal with Independence Blue Cross of Philadelphia to provide hospitalization, medical, prescription and vision coverage for County employees from Jan. 1-Dec. 31, 2016. The renewal covers 2,368 eligible full-time employees and their dependents. Recently, the County switched from fully insured to self-insured status at a considerable cost savings to taxpayers. To that end, the commissioners also signed off on a one-year, $1.1 million contract with Pittsburgh-based HM Insurance Group for stop loss insurance.
For the Information Technology department, the board approved a pair of one-year cell phone contracts dedicated to County business, including $30,000 with AT&T and $468,000 with Verizon Wireless. In the Military Affairs realm, they agreed to a one-year, $14,799 contract with Metro Flag Company of Dover, NJ to purchase U.S. Flags for placement on veteran’s graves during the Memorial Day holiday.
Management of the County-owned Oxford Valley Golf Course will remain with B&B Turf Management for another year, as the commissioners agreed to a $180,000 contract to that effect. For the last decade, B&B has spruced up the nine-hole facility and made it a destination spot for local duffers and scratch golfers alike. The course is open for play between March 1 and December 31 annually.
During commissioners’ comment, Chairman Loughery noted that the County has begun to remit payments that had been withheld from row offices during the ongoing state budget impasse – which has reached 204 days. Chief Operating Officer Brian Hessenthaler reported that the County has received $24 million from the state in its stopgap funding - $18 million of which was dedicated to Children & Youth. “The funding is beginning to trickle in,” Mr. Hessenthaler added.
Chief Clerk Lynn Bush reported that Bucks County is the site of the first automated toll system on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, and work is ongoing with that project and its impacts at the eastern end of the state thoroughfare.
The next meeting of the Board of Bucks County Commissioners will take place at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 3 in the Commissioners’ Meeting Room (first floor), 55 E. Court St., Doylestown, PA. For a complete audio account of the January 20, 2016 business meeting, please visit the official county website, www.BucksCounty.org, and click on the “Audio from Last Mtg” link on the home page.