The Board of Bucks County Commissioners continued what has become an annual tradition during their December 7, 2016 business session in the Administration Building Meeting Room. By approving a $414.7 million operating budget for fiscal year 2017, Commissioners Robert G. Loughery, chairman, Charles H. Martin and Diane M. Ellis-Marseglia, LCSW maintained the county property tax rate at the same level for the 10th time in the last 11 years.
“The line items in this budget don’t tell the story of the challenges we faced,” Chairman Loughery said after thanking Chief Operating Officer Brian Hessenthaler, Director of Finance and Administration David Boscola and the Finance Department staff for their work in crafting the budget. “This budget (process) really weighed on me. We had to make some difficult decisions, ones we are going to have to make again in 2018 and 2019.”
Mr. Hessenthaler also thanked Finance staff members as well as the independent row officers and court departments. “Budgets are never easy,” he said. “This budget was much more difficult than past ones for various reasons.”
The 2017 budget highlights include $86.2 million dedicated to the Human Services division, $63.6 million to Courts and $39 million to Corrections. Commissioner Marseglia offered her praise for the Human Services funding, adding that the 2017 budget process was the most gratifying for her of the last nine years serving as a commissioner. Unlike past years, when the budget approval took place at the final meeting of the calendar year, an accelerated timetable allowed the board to take action two weeks earlier.
In addition to the budget approval, the board unanimously approved a slate of 66 contract resolutions involving 19 County departments. A clear highlight of that agenda was Human Resources, which featured the approval of five collective bargaining agreements extending through 2020. Among them were four contracts with the Pennsylvania Social Services Union (PSSU) which will impact 380 employees.
Also in the Human Resources realm, the board signed off on a three-year, $3.65 million contract renewal with Independence Blue Cross of Philadelphia to provide administrative services and claims processing for medical, prescription and vision plans. A second one-year IBX contract for $30.53 million will provide hospitalization, medical, prescription and vision coverage for 2,295 employees and their dependents.
The board approved nine contracts for the Area Agency on Aging, including a one-year, $198,171 agreement with the Bucks County Association for Retired and Senior Citizens of Trevose.
Also in the Human Services division, seven contracts for the Children & Youth Social Services Agency gained approval. They included a one-year, $1.54 million renewal with Warminster-based Christ’s Home for Children for group home services, transitional living services and a mother/baby program.
The Corrections department’s relationship with Fort Washington’s Honeywell Building Solutions continued through the approval of a five-year, $2.74 million contract to provide service and maintenance of management and monitoring systems at the Bucks County Correctional Facility and Youth Center.
Another large chunk of the agenda included 11 Mental Health/Developmental Programs (MH/DP) items, among them a one-year, $1.63 million contract renewal with NHS of Bucks County to provide intensive case management, residential and family based services and a one-year, $2.97 million renewal with Penndel Mental Health Center to provide housing and mental health services.
The meeting opened with a very special proclamation issued to 27-year Open Space and Agricultural Land Preservation Board member Dr. Joshua Feldstein. A 2007 recipient of the Bucks County Distinguished Citizen Award, the 95-year-old Dr. Feldstein noted that he is “very proud of Bucks County, and I appreciate the opportunity to serve the people” through the preservation of more than 24,000 acres of land. As Commissioner Martin observed while issuing the proclamation, Dr. Feldstein becomes the first “emeritus” member of both boards. Chairman Loughery also shared a memory of working with Dr. Feldstein at the Pennsylvania Biotechnology Center in Doylestown, when the former Delaware Valley University President told him, “Growing old is not for sissies.”
During his bi-weekly COO report, Mr. Hessenthaler praised the HR department for its work to finalize the union collective bargaining agreements on the agenda. He also announced a new initiative of the Bucks County Drug and Alcohol Commission (600 Louis Dr., Suite 102-A), which will provide members of the public with the opioid-rescue antidote Narcan from 10 a.m.-1 p.m on Mondays and Tuesdays each week at their office. “In our constant, ongoing battle (against drug use), this is another step the County is taking,” Mr. Hessenthaler said.
The next meeting of the Board of Bucks County Commissioners will take place at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, December 21, 2016, at the home of Visit Bucks, 3207 Street Rd., Bensalem, PA 19020. For a complete audio account of the December 7, 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.