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2020 News

CARES Funds to Enhance Livestreamed Access to County Meetings

July 16, 2020

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: James O’Malley, 215-348-6414, jtomalley@buckscounty.org

Calling the effort “long overdue” and a “silver lining” of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Bucks County Commissioners on Wednesday committed more than $130,000 in federal relief dollars to making their meetings more accessible to the public through improved livestreaming technology.

The commissioners unanimously approved a contract for the purchase and installation of audio and video equipment aimed at providing quality online broadcasts of public county meetings throughout the remainder of the coronavirus pandemic and beyond.

Because the initiative was prompted by the need to provide virtual access to public meetings at a time when attendance is restricted by distancing requirements, it is being funded entirely with money from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

The county’s contract with the Lerro Corporation of Norristown for the much-needed upgrades is capped at $132,341.69. meeting photo

Expected to be operational within two months, the setup includes five switchable cameras, and will help bring a more professional look, sound and feel to the county’s online broadcasts, Director of Policy and Projects Eric J. Nagy told the commissioners.

“This is a really good thing for transparency and accessibility” in county government, Nagy said.

Commissioners Chair Diane M. Ellis-Marseglia echoed Nagy’s remarks, saying she had been pushing for live broadcast of county meetings since she first was elected in 2007. She called it a “silver lining” of the COVID pandemic that circumstances had provided the urgency to push that vision into reality.

“Saying it’s long overdue is kind of an understatement,” said Commissioner Bob Harvie, noting that when he first took office as a Falls Township supervisor in 2004, Falls and other municipalities already offered livestreamed meetings to their consituents.

The county began livestreaming public meetings in April via Facebook. Using equipment already on hand, Nagy and the county’s Information Technology Department urgently made arrangements to ensure the public’s continued access to government during Gov. Tom Wolf’s restrictions on public gatherings.

The move came two months before the release of a report from the Bucks County Transition Team that stressed, among other things, the immediate need for meetings to be livestreamed.

Despite the rudimentary, "overnight" nature of the lifestreaming initiative, Nagy said online feeds of the commissioners’ meetings, town halls and news conferences frequently have drawn upwards of 20,000 viewers.

“So if you provide a service to the public where they can see what you are up to, they will (attend),” Nagy said. “It’s just not easy for everyone to be here in person.”

Although in-person public attendance has been allowed now for two consecutive meetings, the commissioners continue to invite county residents to attend virtually and submit comments and questions via email to PublicComment@buckscounty.org.

Bucks County has been allotted a total of $109 million in CARES Act money, and the $132,000 contract for audio/video equipment represented only a sliver of the federal money divvied up at Wednesday’s meeting. 

Through a package of resolutions brought by the Bucks County Department of Housing and Community Development, the commissioners earmarked some $2.38 million in federal funds for a number of pandemic-related purposes, including adapting facilities to meet health and safety guidelines, providing rental assistance and implementing training programs. 

 The funds went primarily to Bucks County-based nonprofits.

“This is just a terrific example of how we are taking the federal money we got through the CARES Act and putting it to good use,” said Commissioner Gene DiGirolamo.