Bucks County to Have $2.7 Million Budget Gap
Bucks County unveils its preliminary 2013 operating budget, which increases spending by 1.2 percent, but carries over $44.3 million in the general fund from this year.
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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 2013 this afternoon at the Bucks County Courthouse.
The proposed budget of $467.5 million represents a 1.2 percent increase over 2012. 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.
“Another very difficult budget,” Mr. Boscola stated. “Due to ongoing economic conditions that the county has tried to weather for a number of years, the county continues to face some very difficult decisions. Strict cost containment measures put in place for 2012 have put the county in a much better position than this time last year. We still have a ways to go.”
Weighed against revenue projections, the proposed 2013 budget creates a $2.7 million gap. Explaining the major reasons for the shortfall, Mr. Boscola attributes them to declining revenues flowing from the state and federal governments and a stagnant tax base.
“Preparing the 2013 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 the (preliminary) budget shows a deficit in its current form, I’d like to point out that it’s significantly less than last year (when there was a $24.2 million preliminary budget gap). We still have to make some difficult decisions. Our revenues are not increasing, but our expenses are.”
Chairman Loughery pointed to 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 paring the budget deficit. Unknowns for 2013 include unresolved union contracts and union healthcare costs, and required employee pension contributions. “By reducing the footprint of county government, we have made a big impact on the budget,” Chairman Loughery added.
The county will carry over a projected general fund balance of $44.3 million into 2013. Last year, 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 upcoming bond issues.
As has been the case with previous budgets, the county’s Health and Human Services Division accounts for the largest portion of the proposed 2013 operating budget, or 46 percent ($213.9 million); departments covering public safety account for 31 percent ($143.3 million) of the total.
Mr. Boscola noted that the commissioners have multiple alternatives to address the $2.7 million shortfall as they consider adoption of a final budget, which traditionally has occurred during the final Commissioners’ Meeting of the calendar year (Wednesday, December 19, at the Bucks County Conference and Visitors Bureau in Bensalem Township). They include further cuts to expenditures, identification of additional sources of revenue, drawing down the county’s general fund balance, raising taxes, or some combination thereof.
Over the next four weeks, the proposed 2013 budget will be carefully analyzed by the Board of Commissioners. 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 Tuesday, Dec. 4 at 6 p.m., in the Bucks County Courthouse Community Room (1st Floor).
“Many of the steps we have taken have put us in a more favorable position this year,” added Mr. Hessenthaler. “However, we are not completely there yet.”
The 2013 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 2013 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.