Bucks County Transition Report Progress Tracker
Immediately following their November 2019 election, Diane Ellis-Marseglia and Bob Harvie established a Transition Team made up of community volunteers and experts in their respective fields with an aim to review every facet of county government and report back with recommendations to the new administration. In June of 2020, Commissioners Ellis-Marseglia and Harvie, joined by Commissioner Gene DiGirolamo, voted to accept the Transition Report, which they released to the public. Since then, the Commissioners have used the report as a guide to help inform their administration’s agenda and priorities.
To mark the two-year anniversary of the public release, the Commissioners have put together a Transition Progress Report to keep track of what we’ve been able to accomplish as recommended by the Transition Team.
Here, we’ve broken that into to nine categories and documented the administrations’ success with photos, video, and audio. We will keep this page open to dynamically continue to track what we’ve been able to achieve based on these expert recommendations.
- Accessibility, Transparency, Technology
- Economic Development
- Going Green
- Farms and Food
- Parks & Rec & Trails
- Planning for the Future
- Human Services
- Fiscal Responsibility
- Addressing Housing Needs
The Transition team called for overhauling and updating the County’s severely outdated technological infrastructure. At the time, our website was 15 years old with no accessibility features, our public Commissioner meetings were not videotaped, let alone live-streamed, our social media platforms severely lacked in content, creativity and followers, and we had not adjusted to the realities of the modern workplace, even pre-pandemic, failing to allow for a flexible workforce experience.
Since taking office, our administration is proud to have launched our long-overdue, brand-new website. Not only was it a complete tech overhaul, we gave the branding a facelift with new fonts, logos, and colors, even changing its name from buckscounty.org to buckscounty.gov, and finally introducing ACA accessibility features. And there’s more to come – in the near future, we’ll institute online payments, a mobile app, and a single sign on feature to tie it all together – for a seamless user experience.
Live-Streaming Commissioners' Meetings
Work from Home
Even before the pandemic necessitated some form of it, our Transition Team had the foresight to call for some form of remote work because even events like inclement weather were costing the county nearly $200,000/day per closure. Now our workforce has completely transformed to a more balanced, flexible hybrid system, allowing employees in most departments to work from home up to three days per week, embracing a new standard like many companies and governments across the globe, while not having to sacrifice production.
Promoting Public Awareness
Additionally, the County’s newly-formed Communications Department dove head-first into the social media age, hiring a Social Media Specialist, and growing existing platforms including getting Facebook over 20,000 followers, and launching newer platforms like Instagram and TikTok. We have even launched an official behind-the-scenes County podcast – Bucks County Conversations – which has already produced eight episodes in its first season and has climbed up the national ranks of government-centered podcasts.
The Economic Development Subcommittee of the Transition Team called for creating a Director of Economic Development Officer on staff and the Government Efficiency Subcommittee called for bringing Workforce Development under the County government to both focus on growing the economy, boosting the workforce, to tackle government staff vacancies, and to engage directly with Bucks County Community College to develop the type of training geared to the needs of Bucks County employers.
Workforce and Economic Development
Opting for a holistic approach, the administration did indeed bring the Workforce Development Agency under the purview of the Commissioners and created a new department merging both concepts together – Economic & Workforce Development – with a new director to oversee the department, Billie Barnes.
Bucks Back to Work Grants
Finding the need especially critical during the pandemic, Economic & Workforce Development, has overseen the distribution of over $50M in small business grants through our CARES-funded Bucks Back To Work program.
Partnering with BCCC
We have seen increased cooperation with our economic development partners under the leadership of Ms. Barnes and have begun the conversation with the new President of BCCC to facilitate more responsive programming to needs of Bucks County employers.
Recognizing a lack of urgency on environmental responsibility, the Transition Team called on the administration to adopt the Sierra Club’s Ready for 100% Clean Energy resolution, to convert to LED lighting, go as paperless as possible, and purchase electric county vehicles and charging stations.
Sustainability Task Force
In an effort to address the Transition Team’s recommendations, Commissioner Bob Harvie initiated a sustainability task force to analyze the County’s energy use and determine what measures could be implemented – and how quickly – to make the County of Bucks more energy efficient and independent.
Ready For 100%
The County quickly adopted and signed onto the Sierra Club’s Ready for 100% Clean Energy Initiative – a commitment to move over to 100% clean energy by 2035. The ultimate result of the sustainability taskforce was to create and fill the new position of Sustainability Officer, housing the position under the Planning Commission, with the aim for that position to implement the steps necessary to achieve the Sierra Club’s goal.
Directives have been put out by the administration to switch over to LED lights where possible when replacing old bulbs, to remove desktop printers, and to actively cut down on printer usage in general, to completely digitize the county’s paper-dependent resolution process. We have also purchased electric vehicles to replace old gas-guzzling models in the county fleet and to add charging stations for EVs at our county-owned parking garages and parking lots.
Earlier in the administration, the Commissioners’ adopted a power purchase agreement with surrounding counties to purchase solar power at a better rate.
Farms and Food
The Transition called on the administration to continue the County’s longstanding practice of Farmland Preservation and to help farmers market their goods and expand the Senior Center pop-up program throughout Bucks County.
Recognizing that farmland preservation is a Bucks County tradition, since inauguration in January 2020, the Commissioners have preserved an additional 9 farms – that’s 501 acres of farmland – in the County. Since the program's inception, 238 farms (18,431.57 acres) have been preserved.
The administration has held meetings with the Foodshed Alliance and local farmers on how to better coordinate getting local food to the community, proposed adding more resources to the County website on agriculture and agribusiness and provided additional funding to the Penn State Ag Extension service for space at the Wrightstown Grange that will provide increased capacity to the farming network throughout the County.
The Commissioners have hosted local farms and farmers – like Jonathan Snipes of Snipes Farm – at their meetings to promote Senior Center pop-up programs.
Wrightstown Farmers' Market
Solebury Orchards in New Hope
None Such Farm Market in Buckingham
Milk House Farm Market in Newtown
Parks & Rec & Trails
The Transition Team did an analysis of each County-owned park and the overarching picture was that many parks needed upgrades, improvements, and attention to detail, including improving trail signage and better maintaining structures.
Revamping Parks and Recreation
With the retirement of the longtime Director of Parks & Recreation, the Commissioners had an opportunity to completely revamp the organization, hiring Angie Nagle as the new Director. Angie is in the process of developing a comprehensive plan for the new park system.
With the launch of our new website, we were able to completely overhaul the Parks & Rec subpage, which now allows for residents to easily book park facilities and pay for reservations online.
Working with the planning Commission, the administration was able to cut the ribbon connecting the Pennypack Trail and the Newtown Rail Trail, driving the “golden spike” connecting Bucks and Montgomery Counties.
Listen to Episode 5 of the Bucks County Conversations Podcast - Parks and History: "Something for everyone."
Peace Valley Park and Lake Galena
Ringing Rocks Park
Planning for the Future
With a new administration presenting plenty of avenues for change, the Transition Team recommended initiating a county-wide annual strategic planning process to identify and implement objectives that cut across county divisions.
The first major step in this process taken by the new Commissioners, indeed, was the Transition Report itself, which has served as a major blueprint for their administration. The first such report of its kind in history, it signaled the changing of the guard after 40 years of one-party rule, and gave the administration an impressive set of goals and opportunities to reshape county government.
While an annual strategic plan is likely not plausible, the County is in the middle of compiling a once-every-decade Comprehensive Plan, known as Bucks2040. As part of that effort, the Planning Commission is drawing on recommendations from the Transition Report and for the first time ever, conducted a scientifically-valid residential survey to take the temperature on what Bucks Countians want for their future. For more information on the project go to Bucks2040.com.
For more information on how Bucks County is planning for the future, listen to the Bucks County Conversations Podcast, Episode 4 - The Planning Commission: "The answer people."
The vast majority of the County’s operational budget is spent on human services. Among the most ambitious challenges put forth by the Transition Team was to merge together the Mental Health and Behavioral Health departments to better serve the community in a more efficient manner.
Mental Health and Behavioral Health
In 2020, the administration did just that, forming the brand-new Mental Health/Behavioral Programs Department allowing for better communication among the departments all under the supervision of a new Human Services Director.
Additionally, the Commissioners spearheaded a breakthrough initiative with local police departments called the Co-Responders Program, where social workers accompany police officers to calls where someone may be experiencing a non-violent mental health or behavior incident. Beginning in Bensalem, we were proud to expand this program to Falls and Middletown Townships in partnership with their respective local police departments.
Human Services HUB
Another major resource brought forth by this administration is the implementation the Human Services HUB – a physical location in the county building – where all human services calls and visits are routed – in an effort to make sure residents seeking services, whether that’s assistance with food, medical, insurance, housing, or other crises, are immediately pointed in the right direction.
Want more information on the HUB? Listen to Episode 2 of Bucks County Conversations - The HUB: "A door to Human Services."
Co-Responders working with the Bensalem, Falls and Middletown Township police to assist with calls where someone may be experiencing a non-violent mental health or behavior incident.
The County has operated for years under a structural deficit and the Transition Team made several recommendations to cut costs and raise revenue including a 2% across-the-board reduction in operating costs, evaluating the sale of non-core assets, and encouraging all departments to identify ways to increase revenue generation.
AAA Bond Rating
The Commissioners take their fiduciary responsibility quite seriously. That’s why, even during the pandemic, S&P reaffirmed the County’s AAA bond rating because of "strong management with good financial practices."
Taking a page from the Transition Team, the administration also made the unanimous decision to lease the long-held Moravian Pottery & Tile Works, which had been losing $500,000/year, to a private company. They also were able to pass the historic environmental preservation easement of Lake Galena which netted the county $25 million, transferred responsibility for upkeep and maintenance of the lake’s dam to the Bucks County Water and Sewer Authority, all while preserving the lake and surrounding Peace Valley Park in perpetuity.
Additionally, the administration’s new County Solicitor, Joe Khan, immediately sought to limit the County’s reliance on outside law firms, bringing more assistant solicitors on-board to handle litigation, while saving the County hundreds of thousands of dollars and county.
The Law Department frequently seeks affirmative litigation actions, bringing in settlement dollars to the County, by suing major corporations that have wronged Bucks Countians, like opioid manufacturers, and recently suing PFAS manufactures over the presence of the dangerous chemicals in firefighting foam.
PFAS News Conference
Addressing Housing Needs
Even before the housing crisis occurred do the shifting behaviors in the pandemic, the Transition Team recognized several areas of need. They recommended promoting the development of attainable and affordable housing in the County; pilot-testing a rent-subsidy program for low-income residents; and better addressing the needs of unhoused individuals, including establishing year-round, temporary drop-in shelters.
Recently, the administration has directed our Planning Commission to adopt performance standards to serve as a model for Bucks County municipalities, encouraging increasing (and promoting) allowance for mixed-use zoning to create attainable, livable, walkable, neighborhoods with a built-in economic ecosystem. Additionally, the Planning Commission and Department of Housing and Community Development are continuously reviewing attainable housing models from around the nation.
For a rent-subsidy test-pilot program, the administration adopted the Bucks Emergency Rental Assistance Program (BERA). Since its inception, the BERA program has successfully kept over 3,000 Bucks County families in their homes.
Finally, the County has drastically expanded its use of hoteling people who are experiencing homelessness, while continuing to work with other County offices, non-profit partners, and municipalities to find and assist the homeless.