The Board of Bucks County Commissioners concluded its 2016 business agenda with a 90-minute business session at the headquarters of Visit Bucks in Bensalem. The meeting included several significant agricultural and open space land preservations, resolutions impacting Parx Casino gaming proceeds and the county lodging tax, and a host of Human Services contracts.
Over the last decade, it has become a tradition for the Commissioners to conduct their closest-to-holiday meeting at Visit Bucks. While there, they enjoy the Holiday Tree Fest and join Visit Bucks Executive Director Jerry Lepping to announce local tourism grant recipients. Commissioner Chairman Robert G. Loughery thanked Mr. Lepping and the Visit Bucks Staff for their hospitality. “This the 11th year of our Tree Fest,” Mr. Lepping told Chairman Loughery and Commissioners Charles H. Martin and Diane M. Ellis-Marseglia, LCSW. “It attracts about 6,000 people to our building, including many groups of seniors and children. It’s a great draw for the area, and for Bucks County.”
At the end of the meeting, the commissioners joined Mr. Lepping to announce $262,000 in fall 2016 tourism grants that went to a variety of county non-profit agencies – including $35,000 to the Bristol Riverside Theatre, and $25,000 each to the James A. Michener Art Museum and the Mercer Museum. Since its inception, the program has funded more than $3.2 million in tourism grants.
The business session opened with a special presentation by Recorder of Deeds Joseph Szafran to four corporate sponsors of the Bucks County Tour of Honor. The Tour of Honor, which celebrated its 3rd trip back in September, 2016, transports veterans to Washington, D.C. for a one-day sightseeing gala that includes visits to multiple memorials and historic sites. Earning special mention for their efforts to support the event were Parx Casino, Team Toyota, American Heritage Federal Credit Union and the Oxford Valley Golf Course Men’s and Women’s Leagues. Mr. Szafran also announced that there will be two Tour of Honor dates during 2017 – one in June for Vietnam veterans (a new, younger group) and one in October for World War II and Korean War veterans.
While emphasizing the commissioners’ intent to continue its popular Agricultural Land Preservation Program in to future years, Chairman Loughery enthusiastically joined his colleagues to approve almost 160 acres of farmland easement space in Milford and Springfield townships. County Agricultural Land Preservation Director Rich Harvey presented the 89.25-acre Stauffer/Leamer farm, a corn, soybeans and orchard property in Milford that ranked No. 4 on the 2016 round of applications. The County’s portion of that easement is $468,562 plus settlement charges and adjustments. In addition, the board unanimously approved $313,996 plus settlement charges and adjustments to preserve the 68.26-acre Baringer farm in Springfield. The Baringer property is a corn and soybeans production tract. The two preservations lifted the program total to 197 farms totaling 15,943 acres.
The commissioners also approved four Behavioral Health contracts, a three-month, $108,267 Health Department increase and extension of a federal immunization grant with the Pennsylvania Department of Health, Bureau of Communicable Diseases, and a one-year, $290,525 Mental Health/Development Programs grant renewal to improve access to treatment and support services with the Pennsylvania Office of Mental Health & Substance Abuse Services.
At the recommendation of General Services Director Kevin Spencer, the board tabled a proposed $16,300 contract increase with Wyatt Elevator Company of Folcroft, PA for costs incurred outside the scope of the original maintenance contract. The commissioners did, however, approve eight General Services agreements, including a $68,447 increase with CMG of Easton for sprinkler work and hydrostatic testing related to the ongoing renovation work at 55 E. Court St.
For Visit Bucks (Bucks County Conference and Visitors Bureau), the commissioners joined more than 20 counties around the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania who have parlayed Act 18 into an amended hotel tax rate and allocation. The Bucks County rate will rise from three (3) to five (5) percent, an increase that will fund marketing efforts throughout the region as well as markets like New York City and Washington, D.C.
The commissioners also approved a one-year Memorandum of Understanding with Greenwood Gaming and Entertainment, Inc. (Parx Casino and Racing) to provide the local share of slot machine revenue. State Sen. Tommy Tomlinson and Parx Director of Diversity and Community Development Ron Davis pledged their commitment to that funding. “A casino license is a privilege, not a right,” Mr. Davis said. “We’ve done well. We also want to do good.”
Another significant chunk of the agenda involved three Open Space gran projects: a $659,729 conservation easement on the Blough property in Milford Township, a $202,125 purchase of the M.R. Reiter School property in Morrisville Borough, and a $647,900 grant for improvements to the Warminster Community Park. The Reiter School purchase is significant because it lies adjacent to the National Historic Site Summerseat. According to County Open Space Coordinator Dave Johnson, the County has received 14 Municipal Open Space applications in the last month. The deadline for municipalities to apply for the current round of funding is Dec. 31, 2016.
Although all 58 resolutions that came up for vote passed, Commissioner Marseglia voted against a pair of Solicitor’s agreements involving a legal settlement with a County employee.
In addition to the Tour of Honor proclamation, the commissioners joined Bucks County Community College officials to honor Laren McClung as the 40th Bucks County Poet Laureate. Ms. McClung read a poem dedicated to her father, and it was a topical recitation as the work was based on the Vietnam War.
The meeting concluded with all three commissioners extending warm holiday wishes to those in attendance.
The next meeting of the Board of Bucks County Commissioners will take place at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, January 4, 2017, at the home of Visit Bucks, 3207 Street Rd., Bensalem, PA 19020. For a complete audio account of the December 21, 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.