The Bucks County Commissioners, in a 2-1 vote, passed a 2020 operating budget of $452.6 million, which included a relatively small tax increase.
The tax will raise slightly more than $8 million. The commissioners also approved the use of $7.6 million from the county’s $33.2 million general fund balance to help erase a deficit in the preliminary budget released in November.
Under the county’s current millage rate, the average property owner pays about $880 per year in county taxes. The one-mill increase would raise that by about $36.50 per year for the average taxpayer.
The final budget represents a 4.6 percent increase over the 2019 budget of $432.6 million. Commissioners’ Chairman Robert Loughery and Commissioner Diane Ellis-Marseglia voted to approve it, while Commissioner Charles H. Martin voted against it.
Director of Finance and Administration David Boscola, who in November projected a preliminary deficit of $16.3 million at the current tax millage rate, said the annual budget contains “an enormous amount of fixed costs” that limit the county’s options in cutting spending.
Nonetheless, that deficit had been pared to less than half of the $39 million shortfall the county faced when initial budget requests came in.
“It again was a challenging year, and putting together this budget for 2020 wasn’t easy,” Loughery said, “but I think we’ve come up with an in-the-middle sort of solution before us here today.”
Much of the shortfall was attributed to increased pay and benefits for employees, along with reduced revenues in some departments.
Marseglia said she was “thrilled” that the budget provides for additional staffing to meet the needs of the Children & Youth Social Services agency. “This is going to be a budget that’s good for children,” she said, adding that the county “probably needed two mills this year.”
It was the final commissioners’ meeting for Loughery and Martin, who are leaving the board.
Marseglia and the two incoming commissioners, Gene DiGirolamo and Robert Harvie Jr., will have the option, as a new board, of re-opening the budget to make adjustments if they desire.
“This budget (meets) the needs of the county, as Commissioner Marseglia noted, with Children & Youth, and also the Area Agency on Aging and the courts – some of the areas that are experiencing needs and demands from the community for their services,” Loughery said.
As in previous years, the county’s Health Division and Housing and Human Services Division account for almost half of the budget, while departments providing for public safety take up another quarter of the total.
To view the 2019 operating budget, visit BucksCounty.org and click on the “2020 Final Budget” link on the home page. ••