READING, Pa. – The Berks County Board of Commissioners on Thursday morning used the weekly commissioners' meeting as an opportunity to go on record with goals for 2022.
Many of the topics covered were mentioned across the board by the each of three commissioners, a panel which consists of two Republicans and one Democrat.
Commissioner Michael S. Rivera
"In looking at the goals for 2022, a lot of the ones from 2021 will remain in effect," Rivera said. "One of them is the budget and spending; I have a goal of no tax increase in 2023."
Rivera added, "We're going to continue to seek ways to be more efficient with the use of technology, looking at ways for residents to interface with the county electronically, rather than having to come into the building."
Some of Rivera's other points included:
- Making the best use of the north campus in Bern Township, the south campus in Mohnton, the downtown campus services center and the courthouse. This will include attempting to minimize outside leases which some departments have outside of county properties.
- Determining if a co-op or consortium would be beneficial to the agricultural community in order to get local businesses to buy from local producers.
- Making sure the $82 million in American Rescue Plan funds is used in the best way possible to provide long-term benefits to the county.
- Focusing on economic development and attracting businesses, as well as working to upskill the labor force to meet the future needs of a county workforce.
- Working closely with the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania to continue outreach to legislators for the need of election reform.
- Keeping an eye on transportation needs, specifically making sure the Route 422 and Route 222 corridors are kept as priorities by the Regional Area Transportation Study Committee.
Vice Chair Kevin S. Barnhardt
"I just want to emphasize that all three of us are actively engaged full time on all of these projects," Barnhardt said. "Some of us are more immersed in projects than others, but that's really just the time constraint."
"I'm really proud of all our county employees and what they've done, especially through this pandemic, primarily our essential workers," he added. "Those 24/7 operations, they've really been there day in and day out as we go into year three of the pandemic. I can't do what I do to help move this county forward successfully without the 2,100 employees coming to work each and every day and making me proud to be a commissioner."
Barnhardt's goals included:
- Approving a corrections facility steering committee to guide the four- to five-year process of constructing a new jail.
- Providing the proper storage of equipment at the south campus.
- Instituting electronic poll books this spring.
- Continuing to pressure Harrisburg for some fundamental changes in the election code.
- Reviewing applications for the use of the American Rescue Plan dollars.
- Carefully looking at the results on requests for information on community health needs to determine if a county department of health is warranted.
- Looking at infrastructure funding for the future needs of roads and bridges.
Chair Christian Y. Leinbach
"The number one with thing is to continue to focus on the budget," Leinbach said. "Budget and spending are critical. I want to highlight that this is our 15th year with a total of a 10% increase in county property taxes."
"We need to be smart with our money. One of the ways that we do that is watching our headcount (of employees)," he went on. "We are committed that when it comes to the American Rescue Plan dollars, that those dollars should benefit those most seriously impacted by COVID and that projects that we want to fund are projects that provide long-term benefit to the people of Berks County."
Leinbach's other goals included:
- Restructuring the elections department under a new director who will begin the position in February.
- Looking forward to a full rollout of the new technology of electronic poll books, as the county continues to update policies and procedures with elections.
- Addressing other election issues such as drop box rules for mail-in ballots, cleaning up the voter rolls and better storage of the election equipment.
- Continuing to move forward with the formation of a tri-county passenger rail authority to ultimately restore passenger rail service to Berks County.
- Moving forward with the process of a new county jail and getting all the information correct before proceeding to the next steps of building design.
- Being committed to a careful review of the results on a county health study.
- Being committed to a strategic plan for the Reading Regional Airport and making sure the airport authority becomes a direct county department.
"COVID unfortunately continues as a pandemic," Leinbach said. "I'm hopeful that we may have peaked, but only God knows exactly where we are in that process."
"The Berks County Health Advisory Panel are the professionals that live and work in our community and continue to meet and make recommendations based on their knowledge and experience," Leinbach continued. "I personally pray that 2022 will be the year we exit the pandemic and my words to everybody in this very difficult time is to be kind, be respectful and be gracious."