HomeBensalem TimesBucks Commissioners pass budget, approve new vaccine clinic contract

Bucks Commissioners pass budget, approve new vaccine clinic contract

The board also announced several upcoming rounds of small-business grant distribution

Status quo: Bucks County Commissioners Bob Harvie, Diane Ellis-Marseglia and Gene DiGirolamo passed the 2022 budget with no tax increase. Source: Bucks County Government YouTube

The Bucks County Board of Commissioners, comprised of chair Diane Ellis-Marseglia, Bob Harvie and Gene DiGirolamo, recently held its final meeting of 2021, during which a number of items were discussed, including the 2022 budget, distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine and small-business grants.

Budget

In a unanimous vote, the commissioners adopted a balanced operating budget with no tax increase and no drawing from the general fund for 2022. At $475.5 million, this year’s budget is 1.4 percent larger than that of 2021.

“We are pleased to have passed a budget, once again, with no tax increases,” said Marseglia. “The fact that we have increased services to residents while maintaining a zero-tax increase budget is a win for the residents and businesses of Bucks County as they focus on full recovery in 2022.”

DiGirolmao echoed her sentiment and said, “I think we’ve got a really good budget that Bucks County can be proud of.”

Additionally, the county entered the new year with its AAA bond rating reaffirmed by Moody’s Investors Service and carried into 2022 a balance of about $44.2 million in the general fund.

As usual, county departments that provide public safety, health, housing and human services account for the largest portion of the 2022 budget at 75 percent.

The budget includes provisions for the departments of Area Agency on Aging, Behavioral Health/Developmental Programs, Board of Elections, Children & Youth Social Services Agency, Community Services, Corrections, Emergency Services, General Services, Health Department, Neshaminy Manor, Parks and Recreation and Military Affairs, among others.

It also provides for courts and nine elected row officers: the Clerk of Courts, Controller, Coroner, District Attorney, Prothonotary, Recorder of Deeds, Register of Wills, Sheriff and Treasurer.

COVID-19 vaccine 

The commissioners approved a nine-month, $3 million contract with the Bucks County-based Little Big Health Solutions, a firm founded and run by local clinicians. It replaces AMI Expeditionary Healthcare, which was the primary operator of the county’s COVID-19 vaccine clinics for much of 2021. This contract expired at the end of the year.

Federal dollars received through the American Rescue Plan Act cover the cost of the new contract. The Bucks County Health Department and the county Emergency Management Agency will maintain oversight of the clinics, which include the following locations beginning Monday, Jan. 10: Neshaminy Mall in Bensalem, Tuesday, from noon to 7 p.m., and Thursday, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Warwick Square in Jamison, Monday, from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., Wednesday, from noon to 7 p.m., and Friday, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and Bucks County Community College’s Upper Bucks Campus in Perkasie, Tuesday, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The Jamison clinic is moving from the former Giant grocery store to the former Pet Valu store just a few doors away. All will administer the vaccine at no cost. Primary and booster doses of Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson will be available at each location, which are open exclusively to walk-ins. Scheduling of appointments is not available.

“I know there’s some hesitation and confusion about the COVID-19 vaccines,” said Bucks County Health Department Director Dr. David Damsker. “COVID vaccines are very successful at preventing serious illness and death. The overwhelming majority of COVID-19 patients in hospitals, intensive care units, on ventilators and yes, dying of COVID-19, continue to be unvaccinated. The data is clear and consistent and is taken directly from our six local Bucks County hospitals, where the physicians, nurses and other frontline staff are working long and difficult hours caring for these patients, most of whom are unvaccinated.”

Between Dec. 16-23, the total number of new infections was 1,811, up 257 from the previous week. There were nine deaths (three were delayed reports from the previous two weeks), 131 individuals hospitalized with COVID (two fewer from the previous week) and 10 on ventilators (this includes one from the previous week). The number of fully vaccinated residents was 367,448, an increase of 4,179 from the previous week.

Small-business grants

Harvie shared that $2.4 million was awarded to 253 local businesses in the first round of distribution for the Bucks Back to Work grant. Two more rounds are slated to take place in January, and a fourth, which may incorporate nonprofits, is scheduled for February. Grants range from $2,000 to $30,000, with priority given to businesses that have yet to receive grants from the county but are still suffering the effects of the pandemic. Funding comes from the American Rescue Plan Act.

Present at the meeting was Visit Bucks County President and COO Paul Bencivengo, who shared that $659,000 was distributed to 52 hospitality organizations to focus on marketing, special events, capital improvements and product development. This funding came from the county’s lodging tax. Visit Bucks County is currently looking ahead to its spring campaign to draw visitors from nearby Philadelphia and New York.

Much-needed funds: Paul Bencivengo, president and COO of Visit Bucks County, shared that $659,000 was distributed to 52 hospitality organizations to focus on marketing, special events and other initiatives to help the industry bounce back from the pandemic. Source: Bucks County Government YouTube

Additionally, according to Bencivengo, the U.S. Travel Association has advocated to have local tourism offices receive American Rescue Plan Act dollars to amplify marketing, bring in tourists, create economic impact and sustain hospitality jobs, which in Bucks County typically total 30,000 per year.

“At the end of the day, that’s what the tourism office does,” he said. “Hospitality has really been through a rollercoaster. The demand is there now. We’re working through the staff shortage, but we’re looking to the future and remaining positive.”

Samantha Bambino can be reached at sbambino@newspapermediagroup.com

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