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No county tax hike in 2013

A hiring freeze and staff reductions will continue to balance the budget adopted by the county commissioners. They also hired an Emergency Services director to replace the retiring John Dougherty.

The Bucks County commissioners unanimously adopted next year's $390.7-million budget without raising taxes Wednesday, and hired an Emergency Services director.

To balance the budget, the county will continue the hiring freeze that started a year ago, and the workforce of 2,399  will need to be reduced by 50 employees by June 30, Finance Director Dave Boscola said.

The county started the year with 2,504 workers, and laid off 24 employees to reach its goal of 2,400. The balance of staff cutbacks was through attrition.

"We made some difficult choices, and we executed them, Commissioner Chairman Rob Loughery said. "We reduced the workforce and hit our goals. We'll need more reductions, but they'll be modest in 2013."

Boscola said he expects 50 employees to retire or resign by midyear, and that layoffs will not be needed.

The budget is the sixth in seven years to hold the line on taxes. For the owner of a home with the county's average assessment of $35,900, the 23.2-mill tax rate will remain at $835.

This year's budget raised taxes 1.3 mills, or $45 for the owner of a house with the average assessment.

For the first time in four years, the budget will not dip into the so-called rainy-day fund, Boscola said. This year's budget needed $1.8 million from that fund to balance the budget, and $8.1 million was withdrawn in 2011.

The budget includes a 2 percent cost-of-living raise for the nearly 400 non-union workers, whose pay was frozen this year. It does not provide for raises for the 2,000 union workers, with most of their contracts expiring as of Jan. 1, Chief Operating Officer Brian Hessenthaler   said.

"If any raises are negotiated, we'll turn to the department heads and tell them they need to make up that cost," Hessenthaler said.

In other business, the commissioners unanimously approved the hiring of Scott Forster of Allentown, Pa.,  as director of Emergency Management/Services, at an annual salary of $85,000. Forster, 38, who has served as division director of training and exercises for the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency since February 2010, will replace John Dougherty, who will retire Dec. 28.

For 18 years, Dougherty supervised emergencies such as creek and river flooding and hazardous-waste spills, and he oversaw construction of the Emergency Operations Center in Ivyland, Loughery said.

"I never saw a guy so calm under pressure," Commissioner Vice Chairman Charles Martin said.

The commissioners proclaimed Wednesday as John D. Dougherty Jr. Day.

After thanking the commissioners and his staff for their support through the years, he added: "Now I'll be one of the people calling when my street's not plowed."