No tax hike anticipated for Bucks County residents

Preliminary 2014 budget unveiled Thursday

Published: 5:25 PM EST Nov 27, 2013

Bucks County's 2014 budget likely will mark the seventh time in eight years that the county will not raise property taxes, report county officials.

The 2014 budget is slated for adoption at 10 a.m. Dec. 18, during the county commissioners’ meeting at the Bucks County Conference and Visitors Bureau in Bensalem Township.

Commissioners will analyze the proposed 2014 budget during the next three weeks.

That process will include a public budget meeting at 6 p.m. Dec. 9,  where interested residents will be able to ask questions and offer input about the budget’s content.

That  meeting will take place in the Bucks County Courthouse Community Room (first floor) in Doylestown.

County Commissioner Chairman Robert G. Loughery, Chief Operating Officer Brian Hessenthaler and Finance Director David Boscola presented the preliminary operating budget Thursday afternoon at the courthouse.

“Many of the steps we have taken have put us in a more favorable position this year,” Hessenthaler stated in a news release. “However, this is an evolving process that we continue to monitor for the benefit of the taxpayers.”

The proposed budget of $397.2 million represents a 1.7 percent increase over 2013.

According to Boscola, the preliminary budget remains a work-in-progress, which will include ongoing analysis and input from county commissioners, administration, courts and row offices.

 With projections for  increased revenue, the proposed 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,”  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.

“Preparing the 2014 operating budget has been a fairly interactive process, and a lot of hard work has gone on behind the scenes,” Loughery stated in a news release.

“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.”

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 health care costs, and required employer pension contributions. In addition, items still must be  finalized with the courts and certain row officers.

As 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.

The 2014 preliminary operating budget can be viewed online and the budget process will be updated on that county site.