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Bucks County Commissioners Approve $424 Million Operating Budget For 2018 During Final Business Meeting of 2017

December 21, 2017

In keeping with recent tradition, the Board of Bucks County Commissioners conducted its final business meeting of the year in the wood-pew auditorium of Visit Bucks -the official tourism agency of the county - at its Bensalem Township headquarters. The December 20 session lasted just over an hour and featured the approval of 86 contract resolutions involving 27 County departments and the unanimous approval of a Fiscal Year 2018 operating budget of $424.038 million.

Group Photo of Tourism Grant Recipients at the Visit Bucks County Commissioners' MeetingThe 2018 budget calls for a 5.4 percent year-to-year property tax increase (or 1.25 mills), which equates to approximately $45 a year or 87 cents a week for a homeowner with the average County home assessment. There were many factors contributing to the need to raise the tax rate for only the second time in the last 12 years, many of them related to the current opioid crisis in our communities. The County’s last tax increase came in the 2012 budget. Over the last decade, property taxes have increased a total of less than $90 for the average resident.

“None of us like to do this, but sometimes it becomes necessary,” Commissioner Chairman Charles H. Martin told a large crowd, thanking County Chief Operating Officer Brian Hessenthaler, Director of Finance and Administration David Boscola and Deputy Director of Finance and Administration Russell Rice for their work during a budget process that started with a $40 million deficit in August, 2017. “I am proud of our record collectively,” Chairman Martin added about the last 12 years when viewed as a whole.

“This was not an easy budget,” Commissioner Rob Loughery said during a wide-ranging analysis of the process that led to final approval. “We’ve done as much as we can to control the things we can control. There’s a lot to this, and it’s something we’ve all been struggling with for the last month.” Commissioner Loughery pointed to many successes, including reduction of workforce headcount, repair of 21 bridges during recent years with eight more currently under construction, an award winning long-term care facility (Neshaminy Manor), and others. He also pointed out the effect of increased Children & Youth casework, higher Corrections population, more drug investigations and more work needed by the Coroner’s office.

“It’s what we have to do,” Commissioner Diane M. Ellis-Marseglia, LCSW stated, adding that the 2018 budget represents a clear example of “bipartisanship.” She asked residents to understand that the Bucks County Corrections facilities are almost 100 percent funded by real estate taxes, and those costs have skyrocketed during the last several years, as have Children & Youth case referrals.

Proclamation for Healthy Choices 20th Anniversary, a Behavioral Health Initiative.The meeting also featured a unanimous approval of a Commissioners’ Resolution opting Bucks County out of video gaming terminals at truck stops within the County. This Resolution was supported by the entirety of Bucks County’s Pennsylvania Senate and House delegation. Rep. Gene DiGirolamo (PA-18) was on hand to thank the commissioners for their action with regard to the state’s Act 42, which was passed earlier this year.

The County’s Agricultural Land Preservation program added 183.33 acres with the acquisition of the Patterson farm in Lower Makefield Township. That agreement is a county-only agricultural conservation easement at a cost of $1 plus settlement charges and adjustments that lifts the total of County program to 206 farms totaling 16,500 acres. According to County Agricultural Land Preservation Director Rich Harvey, the Patterson farm is in active production with corn, soybeans and pumpkins. “This is a signature farm for lower Bucks County,” Mr. Harvey told the board. “We are very happy to get it.”

The commissioners approved 10 Children & Youth Social Services contracts, including a one-year, $1.5 million agreement with Christ’s Home for Children of Warminster for group home services, transitional living services and a mother/baby program through June 30, 2018. Also approved for Courts were individual contracts with eight private attorneys to serve as Children & Youth Conflict Counsel in dependence cases where there is a conflict of interest with Legal Aid and with 15 private attorneys to represent individual defendants in cases when there is a conflict of interest with the Bucks County Public Defender’s office.

For the Finance department, the board approved a three-year contract renewal with Zelenkofske Axelrod LLC of Harrisburg for auditing services through 2019 at $158,090 annually. In the General Services realm, the commissioners allocated $118,052 for the replacement of County Bridge No. 30 on Clay Ridge Rd. over Beaver Creek in Tinicum Township with STV Incorporated of Philadelphia. The County’s plans to restore the current parking garage at the corner of N. Broad and E. Court streets moved forward with a $39,500 contract to provide engineering services for that project with Timothy Haahs & Associates, Inc. of Blue Bell, PA.

Commissioner Marseglia motioned to table a one-year, $5,000 contract renewal with A Woman’s Place of Doylestown to provide counseling to victims of domestic abuse and violence. That motion was seconded and unanimously tabled for additional consideration.

For Mental Health/Developmental Programs, the commissioners signed off on seven contracts, including a one-year, $5.381 million renewal with Doylestown’s Lenape Valley Foundation to provide mental health services, a one-year, $2.906 million renewal with Langhorne’s Penndel Mental Health Center to provide housing and mental health services, and a one-year, $1.708 million renewal with Woods Services to provide residential and day program services.

Chairman Martin thanked four outgoing row officers for their service, including Recorder of Deeds Joe Szafran, Prothonotary Pat Bachtle, Sheriff Edward “Duke” Donnelly and Controller Mike Gallagher.

The next meeting of the Board of Bucks County Commissioners will take place at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, January 3, 2018, in the Commissioners’ Meeting Room, 55 E. Court St. (1st Floor), Doylestown, PA 18901. For a complete audio account of the December 20, 2017 business meeting, please visit the official county website, www.BucksCounty.org, and click on the “Audio from Last Mtg” link on the home page.