Bucks County Commissioner Chairman Robert G. Loughery, Chief Operating Officer Brian Hessenthaler and Finance Director David Boscola presented the county’s preliminary operating budget for 2014 this afternoon at the Bucks County Courthouse. The proposed budget of $397.2 million represents a 1.7 percent increase over 2013. According to Mr. Boscola, the preliminary budget draft remains a work-in-progress, which will include ongoing analysis and input from the Board of Commissioners, administration, courts and row offices.
Weighed against increased revenue projections, the proposed 2014 budget creates a $69,200 surplus. “The 2014 budget cycle marks the first time since 2007 that the county has released a preliminary budget that contains a surplus,” Mr. Boscola stated. “Strict cost containment measures put in place for 2012 and 2013 have put the county in a much better position than the previous two budget cycles.”
The county continues to track ahead of budget for 2013, and is projected to carry forward a general fund balance of $44.1 million into 2014. During 2013, Bucks County had its Aaa bond rating reaffirmed by Moody’s Investors Service, a rating that continues to benefit taxpayers through lower borrowing costs on several bond issues.
Chairman Loughery highlighted the fact that the 2014 budget likely will mark the seventh time in eight years that the county will not raise property taxes.
“Preparing the 2014 operating budget has been a fairly interactive process, and a lot of hard work has gone on behind the scenes,” Chairman Loughery stated, thanking county division leaders, department heads, courts officials and row officers for their efforts during the process. “Although this is a preliminary budget, I am pleased with the outcome and attribute that to the fiscal discipline and measures we have put in place over the past two years. By reducing the overhead of county government, eliminating inefficiencies and redundancies, we have strengthened the county’s financial position in these difficult economic times.”
Chairman Loughery also pointed to ongoing cost containment measures such as the 2012 hiring freeze for non-essential positions, attrition of the county workforce, and efforts of the Position Review Committee (PRC) for creating the budget surplus in 2013. Unknowns for 2014 include four unresolved union contracts, union healthcare costs, and required employer pension contributions. In addition, there are still items to be finalized with the courts and certain row officers.
As has been the case with previous budgets, the county’s Health and Human Services Division accounts for the largest portion of the proposed 2014 operating budget, or 46 percent ($218.6 million); departments covering public safety account for 30 percent ($143.6 million) of the total.
Over the next three weeks, the Board of Commissioners will carefully analyze the proposed 2014 budget. That process will include a public budget meeting, during which any interested member of the public will be able to ask questions and offer input about the budget’s content. The public budget meeting will take place on Monday, December 9 at 6 p.m., in the Bucks County Courthouse Community Room (1st Floor). The 2014 budget is slated for adoption on Wednesday, December 18, at 10 a.m. during the Commissioners’ Meeting at the Bucks County Conference and Visitors Bureau in Bensalem Township.
“Many of the steps we have taken have put us in a more favorable position this year,” Mr. Hessenthaler stated. “However, this is an evolving process that we continue to monitor for the benefit of the taxpayers.”
The 2014 budget includes provisions for departments serving Bucks County residents such as Area Agency on Aging (AAA), Behavioral Health, Board of Elections, Children & Youth Social Services Agency, Corrections, Emergency Services, General Services, Health and Emergency Health, Mental Health/Developmental Programs (MH/DP), Parks and Recreation and Veterans Affairs, among others. The budget also provides for courts and 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 2014 preliminary operating budget, please visit www.BucksCounty.org and click on the budget link on the home page. Stay tuned to the official county website for comprehensive updates about the budget process.