Chesco previews 2016 budget with no tax hike

The Chester County Board of Commissioners heard a presentation on the county’s 2016 preliminary budget at its Sunshine Meeting on Thursday, Oct. 29.

Chester County Commissioners Terence Farrell (from left), Michelle Kichline and Kathi Cozzone (right) present Recorder of Deeds Rick Loughery

Chester County Commissioners Terence Farrell (from left), Michelle Kichline and Kathi Cozzone (right) present Recorder of Deeds Rick Loughery with a proclamation for Veterans, Record Your Discharge Date, to be observed Nov. 2.

Chief Operating Officer Mark Rupsis outlined the $525.9 million, draft spending plan, which holds the line on taxes and represents a 1.35 percent decrease from 2015. The preliminary budget calls for $439 million in operating expenses and $87 million in capital expenditures.

Rupsis predicted that the county would retain “one of the lowest tax rates in southeastern Pennsylvania. The rate would be 4.163 mills, the same as it has been for the past three years, Rupsis said. (A mill is a tax of $1 for every $1,000 of assessed property value; the 2015 median assessed value of $166,410 resulted in a tax of $692.76.)

All three commissioners thanked county employees for their roles in curbing spending while implementing the county’s strategic goals, which were updated at the commissioners' regular meeting, which was also held several hours later on Thursday, Oct. 29. The county will hold a public budget hearing on Tuesday, Nov. 10, at 7 p.m. in the commissioners’ boardroom at 313 W. Miner St. in West Chester. Rupsis said he expected the budget to be ready for adoption in early December.

In other business, the commissioners issued proclamations to commemorate National Cyber Security Awareness Month and Veterans, Record Your Discharge Date.

Recorder of Deeds Rick Loughery explained that the state legislature designated Nov. 2 as a day to encourage Pennsylvania veterans to file a copy of their release or discharge papers with their county’s Recorder of Deeds Office. The free service enables veterans to have easy access to certified copies of their release or discharge documents, which are often needed for state and federal benefits, he said.

Loughery said about 30,000 veterans have recorded their information in the county, going back to the Civil War era. He said the county also offers veterans a free ID card, which makes them eligible for discounts at participating businesses.

Jeanne Casner, who heads the county’s Health Department, said she was pleased to announce that longtime employee Betsy Walls recently received the 2015 Pennsylvania State Nurses Association (PSNA) Lifetime Achievement Award.

The PSNA Lifetime Achievement Award is given to a PSNA member who has demonstrated leadership that has significantly impacted nursing practice, nursing education, nursing administration and/or nursing research within the state. Casner said Walls, the bureau director of Personal Health Services for the Chester County Health Department, has been involved in nursing for more than 50 years.

The commissioners reviewed and later approved a contract at their regular meeting to transfer ownership of the Chandler Mill Bridge to Kennett Township for $1. Kennett plans to renovate the bridge for use only by pedestrians and emergency vehicles, making it an anchor for a nature preserve.

Referencing a longtime conflict over plans to rehabilitate the bridge that pitted preservationists against the county and PennDOT, Steve Fromnick, the county’s director of facilities and parks, suggested the commissioners might want “to get that dollar framed.”

During public comment, Blair Fleischmann, the acting director of Safety, Agriculture, Villages, and Environment, Inc. (S.A.V.E.), said S.A.V.E. supports the county’s attention to the Route 1 corridor; however, she said recent discussions regarding an economic development study, possibly by West Chester University, have excluded the agricultural community.

Fleischmann said if the county is going to fund such a study, she would like to see more involvement from farmers and more transparency overall.

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