By Terence Farrell
Chester County Commissioner
Happy New Year! Feliz año nuevo! And best wishes for a healthy, happy and prosperous new year.
As we transition from 2013 to 2014, it is worthwhile to look back at the year that just ended to assess how Chester County government is doing to meet the needs and expectations of its constituents, and to make plans to do even better in the upcoming year.
One of our main tasks as Chester County Commissioners is to watch our taxpayers’ dollars carefully and to return value to the citizens; that is, to make sure that we provide the maximum service we can for each dollar spent. Even though Chester County continues to be a financial stronghold and a model of fiscal responsibility throughout the Commonwealth and the country, we realize that not all residents share in the county’s relative prosperity.
That’s why, working with our department heads and their staffs in 2013, the Commissioners were able to hold the line on taxes for 2014. There is no tax increase in our 2014 budget, reflecting a multiple-year effort to maintain tight control over expenditures while looking for cost-effect ways to provide the necessary services that our citizens have come to expect and that they deserve.
Chester County’s tax rate remains one of the lowest in southeast Pennsylvania. In the past five years, since the beginning of the economic downturn, the County has streamlined the costs of county departments by reductions in force where necessary, and by combining departments and employing new technologies when efficiencies could be realized.
Using our Strategic Plan -- created in 2008 -- as a guide, we will continue along this path in 2014. As part of the strategic planning process, we reviewed the Plan in 2013, updating our Priorities and Goals, in part based on a comprehensive survey of our citizenry. Chester County continues to be ranked by outsiders and those who live here as a great place to live and raise a family. Fully 95 percent of those who responded in last year’s survey gave the county high marks as a place to raise a family – up three percentage points from 2009, when we took our first survey.
A great deal of what we do right as a county is dependent on our 2256 full-time employees. Whether it’s following Commissioner direction in crafting a budget, or delivering human services (half of our budget) to the most vulnerable in the County, or answering the nearly 300,000 calls that come into our 9-1-1 call center annually, our employees do an excellent job! This too is reflected in last year’s survey. Eighty-seven percent of those who had some form of contact with a county employee rated their experience as excellent or good – again, up three points from the survey results in 2009.
The next time you see or talk to a county employee, please thank him or her for a job well done. The employees’ dedication and professionalism contribute greatly to why taxes remain low in our County. We as Commissioners truly value the professionalism of our Chester County employees. Many members of our staff contribute thoughts and ideas on how county government programs and services can be run and delivered more efficiently and effectively. To encourage and benefit from such thinking, the Commissioners established an employee leadership program in 2013 with more than 20 employees nominated by their departments to participate. Innovative thinking and inter-departmental collaboration on the part of these individuals has led to a number of proposed projects that will improve the County’s methods of communication and its creative and sustainable use of technology. Please look for the implementation of some of these projects in 2014!
There are so many other things that the County did in 2013 and will continue to do in 2014 and beyond that all cannot be mentioned in this brief year-end review. In part, we continue to invest in open space preservation and our bicycle and pedestrian trails, and we continue to win awards for doing so. As we have for more than a decade, we also continue to invest in our boroughs and the City of Coatesville, more than $52 million in Community Revitalization Program grants since 2002 – money that aids our urban centers and thus eases development pressure on our green spaces.
Public safety remains one of our top priorities, and in 2014 we will continue the multi-year investment in the new emergency services radio system, along with the expansion of the Public Safety Training Campus. We are able to finance these huge investments at the lowest rates, because of reaffirmation in 2013 of our three “Triple-A” bond ratings! Fiscal responsibility pays dividends!
Chester County government works hard for its citizens, but the citizens also work diligently to make this county one of the best in the nation. From simply getting up each morning and going to work so that they have the where-with-all to support themselves, their families and others, to the countless volunteers who serve their fellow citizens and who were especially generous to so many during this past holiday season, Chester County is great because so many of our citizens work hard to make it that way!
Because of you, we had a wonderful 2013, and we look forward to working with you to ensure that 2014 is even better.