Commissioner Nichols Talks Current Events – May 2012


Commissioner Dennis Nichols in his office at the courthouse / Photo by John Paul

Commissioner Dennis Nichols sat down with the Beaver Countian this week, to discuss various topics that have come across his desk recently. Here are just some of the issues Beaver County Commissioners have been thinking about.

Increasing Productivity

Commissioner Nichols said the county will soon be installing biometric time clocks for employees. The thumbprint units are already being used by employees at Friendship Ridge, but most other county offices have not been using any time card system. “Time cards are used universally in the private sector” said Commissioner Nichols. “This will increase the productivity of county employees, and help to make sure all employees have the same fair workday.”

All employees, including those of row offices, will be required to punch in and out, with the exception of elected officials. Departmental managers will be required to log in and out of their computers, rather than use the thumbprint system.

Row Office Budgets

Earlier this year county commissioners expressed a concern that budgetary shortfalls may require cuts to the county’s row offices. “Now I’m not sure those cuts will be necessary” said Commissioner Nichols. “The state has seen its revenues increasing, and we’re hearing some of the big cuts we were expecting from them may end up in the single digits. We’ll see how that affects our budget overall. I’m not sure cuts to our core county services will need to be made.”

Raising Purchasing Limits Before A Legal Bid Is Required

Commissioners will soon pass a resolution raising the contract limit before legal bids are required from $10,000 to $18,500. A change in state law took effect in January that allowed for the increase, but Beaver County’s policy on purchasing was never updated to reflect the new limit.

“I have no problem at all going up to the $18,500 number” said Commissioner Nichols. “The intention behind the move by the state was to reduce costs. Advertising legal bids is an expensive thing to do.”

Under a legal bidding process, ads must be placed in the paper notifying vendors of purchases the county intends to make. Sealed bids are then submitted to the county, which are later opened in a public meeting. The entire process can add hundreds of dollars to the cost of contracts.

“This change is really just catching up with the reality of doing business” said Commissioner Nichols. “The $10,000 number was established years and years ago, and it hasn’t been adjusted along with inflation.”

Sheriff Sale Listings

Commissioner Nichols said he’s had discussions about Sheriff David moving the county’s Sheriff Sale listings to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

“It’s my understanding the move was solely the Sheriff’s prerogative” said Nichols. “While we’ve had discussions about it, we haven’t taken any formal position yet or acted on anything. I think for the most part the Commissioners feel if you can do business in Beaver County and you can do it competitively, then that’s what we want you to do [...] If a supplier in Beaver County is willing to match its rates with a supplier from outside of the county, I think it just makes sense to spend that money locally.”

Nichols said the county’s solicitors are examining a contract signed by Sheriff David with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

The Jury Commission

Several offices within the courthouse have been debating the benefits of dissolving the county’s Jury Commission. A law passed by the state legislature now provides counties the option of eliminating its two elected Jury Commissioners, one Democrat and one Republican. Several counties have already disbanded their commissions, relying instead on their Court Administrator’s Office to select juries.

According to figures obtained from Beaver County Controller David Rossi, the Jury Commission costs the county some $130,000 annually.

“We saw how the legislature would allow us to eliminate that office. For me in the long run, it is more a matter of what the courts think about it. I would tend to side with their recommendation” said Commissioner Nichols.

The Beaver County Court Administrator’s Office has not yet taken a public position.

Friendship Ridge

A large majority of the Commissioners’ time this year has been spent discussing the long-term budgetary issues at Friendship Ridge.

“The fundamental question for me is, should this be something we as a county government are running” said Commissioner Nichols. “I think if we could operate the nursing home without it being heavily subsidized by the taxpayers, then that would be a good thing for the community. But what we’re finding, is that county subsidies for the facility are close to one million dollars [...] We’ve worked extensively on cost savings, but we remain in this deficit position.”

Commissioner Nichols said the county has spent countless hours trying to reduce costs at Friendship Ridge. “We’ve talked to vendors, and all of them have stepped up and made major cuts to their contracts. If you look at the actual financial statements from this year and compare them to last year, we’ve essentially reduced costs to every category except wages and benefits” said Nichols.

To that end, the county has also been trying to negotiate with the labor union representing public employees at Friendship Ridge. “We’ve talked about rolling back wages by 3%, but even at that level, we’d still have a big problem there [...] Experts tell us the industry standard for nursing homes and hospital facilities is to be in the range where wages are 50% of your total operating costs. Friendship Ridge is now at 65%” said Nichols.

“We would like to be able to operate the facility for the benefit of the patients and the benefit of the public, but we need to do it in such a way that taxpayers aren’t subsidizing the facility. But frankly, if that can’t happen we’ve got to look at alternatives. It doesn’t seem to me it’s fair to ask the average tax payer to subsidize the operation [...] If you look at other counties, many have already sold off their facilities to the private sector.”

Nichols said the County has limited resources, and is running out of options. “We’re not the federal government, Beaver County can’t print money. There’s a statutory tax cap of 25 mills, and we’re already at 22.5 mills. So there’s not a lot of room to raise taxes, and that’s just not something I think we should be doing in this economy anyway.”

Managing Opportunities

Commissioner Nichols said one of the things that hasn’t been discussed yet, but remains a priority for him, is the idea of contracting with an economic development firm. During the election, Nichols often spoke of the need to invest in a top notch consulting firm that could help Beaver County create opportunities for job growth.

“The situation in Beaver County has changed dramatically with Shell’s announcement. Now we need to take an aggressive stance toward bringing new industries into this area [...] We have a spotlight on us from around the world, literally around the world. We’re at the center of the second largest natural gas deposit on the planet, and if that doesn’t get your attention I don’t know what will.”

Commissioner Nichols said along with Shell, other opportunities are going to come. “We have to manage these opportunities, and we have to actively seek out other opportunities as well [...] We need to be thinking about diversification. That’s why I believe we have to get economic development specialists to do this work, it’s just not intuitive and I don’t want Beaver County to miss out on any possibilities.”

Into The Future

Commissioner Nichols said despite current budgetary problems, he strongly believes big changes for the better are headed our way. “In the long term yes things are going to get a lot better here economically, there’s no doubt about it. Over the next 10, 25, 30 years, there’s going to be a lot more disposable income, a lot more wealth will be created here [...] Beaver County will be changing for the better, I have no doubt in my mind.”

 

3 comments

  1. I agree with Tamara…Also we are providing a service to the county…We take great care of our residents and try our best to do all we can. I can not express enough that Friendship Ridge is needed for our residents in the facility and in the County..80%+ are tax payers that work at the Ridge and we have our own family living there..and When Nichols says–“We would like to be able to operate the facility for the benefit of the patients and the benefit of the public, but we need to do it in such a way that taxpayers aren’t subsidizing the facility. — It doesn’t seem to me it’s fair to ask the average tax payer to subsidize the operation”..When did the Ridge become the only SERVICE that needs to make money. I thought we were here to serve our residents and the county. but about 10 years ago FR made a lot of money and FR shifted money many times into the County..So now that times are rough you want to take from the ones that have been taking care of our loved ones. Please don’t get me wrong we are trying to help and we have been meeting with County Reps. but we also have been asking about other ways of saving money and we came up with a few ways to do it. one suggestion way made a long long time ago and still no answer on it..

  2. The overwhelming majority of Friendship Ridge funds come from Medicare and Medicaid NOT the County yet it provides middle class jobs for 700+ people (who are voting taxpayers in Beaver County), quality care for 500+ patients, and a valuable community service. The real room for budget cuts is in the bloated Administrative spending which is almost double other County homes in PA.

  3. Our number one priority is the care we provide at Friendship Ridge. We must maintain the high quality of care we give to the residents. We want to work together to solve the problem we are now facing with the budget cuts to medicare and medicaid. In 2010 the bargaining unit worked with the commissioner to help reduce the deficit. We gave back sick time, give up our double time for overtime, and contribute more to our health care. before this we took an 18 month pay freeze. The wages are at 65% because we are top heavy. Take out administration cost and just add the bargaining unit wages we are at 50%. We have made suggestions on how to cut cost and are willing to work with the commissioners. But that is hard to do, since they do not want to meet with us.

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