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Bucks County Commissioners Approve 2021 Budget, Hold the Line on Taxes

December 22, 2020

December 22, 2020

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Larry R. King, 215.348.6413, lrking@buckscounty.org

The Bucks County Commissioners have unanimously approved the county’s 2021 operating budget of $469 million, which includes no tax increase.

The budget is 3.6 percent higher than last year’s, mostly due to increases in wages and benefits, debt service and unfunded state and federal mandates. 2021 Final Budget

A $7.8 million shortfall between anticipated revenues and spending will be covered by withdrawals from the county’s general fund balance.

At their regular meeting on Dec. 16, the commissioners praised Chief Financial Officer David Boscola for presenting a budget that held the line on taxes in a year filled with COVID-related financial hardship.

“I don’t think anybody would have thought, back in March, April and May, going through what we were going through, that we would be able to put a budget together with no tax increase,” said Commissioner Gene DiGirolamo. “I really think that’s the big news today. We are not raising taxes.”

Despite drawing considerable money from the county’s reserves, Boscola said the ability to put federal CARES Act money toward COVID-related costs, such as public safety and public health salaries, would more than replenish the general fund balance.Boscola

“It was expected that we were going to finish this year, without CARES, with about $30 million in the fund balance,” Boscola said. “With the CARES funding and the eligibility to cover salaries in the public safety and health sectors of the government, I’m anticipating that we’re going to finish 2020 with $50 million in our fund balance.”

The fund balance is projected to be $42.5 million at the end of 2021 after reserves are used to cover the expected deficit.  

Boscola said little had changed in operational expenses, and that the shortfall is a structural deficit that has recurred over the past several years.

“The county has run at a deficit for most of the past 10 years,” said Commissioners’ Vice Chair Bob Harvie. “I was hoping to go after that this year, to really cut into it. Between the pandemic and the election, I’m happy that … it didn’t get bigger.”

Harvie said he expected the county to focus efforts on reducing that deficit in 2021.

“There are some tough decisions we are going to have to make; we know that,” Harvie said. At the same time, avoiding higher taxes is “good news, in terms of people’s wallets, for this year. We want to make sure we can try to be conscious of that in the years moving forward.”

Boscola and county leaders had pared the projected deficit considerably since initial budget requests came in this fall, reducing an initial $21 million shortfall to the current amount.

Last year, faced with a projected deficit of $16.3 million, the outgoing Board of Commissioners voted to increase taxes by one mill – about $36.50 per year for the average taxpayer – and dip into the county’s general fund balance for the remaining $7.6 million that was needed.

Under the county’s current millage rate, the average property owner pays roughly $920 per year in county taxes.

Commissioners’ Chair Diane M. Ellis-Marseglia said increasing the county’s general fund balance should help bolster the county’s excellent bond rating during the coming year.

The county continues to hold a AAA bond rating from Moody’s Investors Service and Standard & Poor’s. This rating benefits taxpayers through lower borrowing costs on current and future bond issues.

As in previous years’ budgets, county departments providing health, housing and human services account for the largest portion of the proposed 2021 budget – 49 percent.

Departments dedicated to providing public safety account for 26.5 percent of the total.

The 2021 budget includes provisions for departments serving Bucks County residents such as Area Agency on Aging (AAA), Behavioral Health/Developmental Programs, Board of Elections, Children & Youth Social Services Agency, Community Services, Corrections, Emergency Services, General Services, Health Department, Neshaminy Manor Nursing Home, Parks and Recreation and Veterans Affairs, among others. The budget also provides for courts and nine elected row offices, including the Clerk of Courts, Controller, Coroner, District Attorney, Prothonotary, Recorder of Deeds, Register of Wills, Sheriff and Treasurer.

To view the 2021 final operating budget, please click here: https://tinyurl.com/y7mfscpb