DOYLESTOWN >> The Bucks County Commissioners on December 19 unanimously approved an austere 2019 operating budget of $432.6 million without raising taxes.
The final budget represents a 2.1 percent increase over the 2018 budget of $423.9 million.
Director of Finance and Administration David Boscola, who last month projected a preliminary deficit of roughly $15.5 million at the current tax millage rate, said the budget was balanced through identifying additional revenue, projecting reduced expenditures for health care and personnel, and using $1.3 million from the county’s $35.6 million general fund balance.
Critical to meeting the budget for the coming year will be savings gleaned from closely monitoring whether to fill non-essential positions as they become vacant, Chief Operating Officer Brian Hessenthaler said.
Hessenthaler called it the “most difficult” budget in his 15 years with the county.
“And the hard work is ahead of us,” he said. “It’s going to be painful to make this work, but we can all make it work.”
A similar financial situation faced the county in 2012, when a selective hiring program also was implemented. Unlike that year, the 2019 adjustments are being made without a tax increase.
As a result of leaving many vacancies unfilled, the county workforce dropped from 2,634 fulltime employees to roughly 2,400 by the end of 2012, and to 2,350 by mid-2013. The county currently has 2,389 fulltime employees.
“These budgets aren’t easy. They get more challenging and complex each year,” Commissioners’ Chair Robert G. Loughery said at the board’s year-end meeting at the Bucks County Visitor Center in Bensalem. “But we have a budget here before us today that I think covers much of the services that are needed in the county.”
Despite the expected winnowing down of the workforce, Loughery said the county “will continue to provide those services at the top level and continue to do the right things for the residents of Bucks County.”
In balancing the 2019 budget, Boscola had faced a daunting task that began months ago with a $35 million gap between expected revenues and initial budget requests from county departments.
By Thanksgiving, county officials had reduced that projected deficit by more than half, and pledged to continue scrutinizing revenue and expenditures to further reduce the shortfall.
Loughery thanked Boscola, Hessenthaler, row officers, department heads and their staffs for cooperating, working hard and collectively tightening their belts.
Bucks 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.
The 2019 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 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 2019 operating budget, please visit www.BucksCounty.org and click on the budget link on the home page.