Tensions between the Bucks County controller and the two Democratic county commissioners boiled over at the April 3 Salary Board meeting.

Democratic Commissioners Chair Diane Ellis-Marseglia and Vice Chair Bob Harvie voted against a request from Controller Pamela Van Blunk, a Republican, to give merit bonuses to some of her employees.

A motion for the bonuses failed 2-2, with minority Republican Commissioner Gene DiGiralomo voting with Van Blunk. Van Blunk, who is a lawyer, ran against Ellis-Marseglia and Harvie in 2023.

Ellis-Marseglia called Van Blunk “heartless” and accused her of “mismanagement” for making her employees work so hard and not hiring additional people.

Harvie told her to “decrease overtime. It’s not fair to them” and to hire more people, saying her department has seven unfilled positions.

Van Blunk said the county had not budgeted for those positions.

At the meeting, Van Blunk criticized the two Democrats for trying to get the county taxpayers to pay for a private luncheon.

“The county government is this wonderful system of checks and balances. The controller is a check and balance on the commissioners’ spending,” said Van Blunk. “I was asked to pay for an invoice to pay for over $1,700 for this administration’s inauguration private luncheon. And I denied it. Why? Because we protect the county. How would that look to the county?

“If the newspapers got ahold of that, the county paying $1,700 for a private political party would not look good. We check for fraud, waste, and abuse.”

When DVJournal asked her about the payment for the party, Van Blunk said the caterer removed a $344 service fee. Van Blunk eventually approved $760 for bagels, pastries, and coffee for a breakfast that was available to the public if they happened to come into the building. But she disallowed $780 for the private luncheon.

“The people of Bucks County elected me to be the county’s independent fiscal watchdog, and I take this job very seriously,” Van Blunk said. I’m proud that the Controller’s Office employees are equally dedicated to protecting our taxpayers.

“The personal attacks against me, my office, and my predecessor during a public meeting were, at best, a thinly veiled attempt to retaliate against my office for doing the right thing: denying payment for the commissioners’ private luncheon for their friends and family. At worst, it was an attempt to hamstring our office’s ability to be the independent fiscal watchdog of the county’s spending. However, these personal attacks will not work because as long as I am in office, I will not be intimidated and will continue to protect taxpayer dollars.”

In 2019, Bucks County paid $165,092,733 in employee salaries for 2,422 full-time employees. In the first three years since Marseglia and Harvie took office, ending Dec. 31, 2022, the county paid $179,782 in salaries for 2,374 full-time employees (48 fewer). That is a $14,537,049 increase in salaries, not including increases in pension liability.

During these three years, the commissioners voted to give 2 percent cost-of-living raises.

“This administration has increased salary expenses by $4.3 million in just three years,” said Van Blunk, who did not have the salary figures for 2023 available.

Ellis-Marseglia accused Van Blunk of lying about the luncheon and doubled down on her accusation of mismanagement.

“The entire premise is false. There was no ‘private luncheon.’ Staff and inauguration guests were included. Commissioner DiGirolamo was there with his family and staff as well. Besides that, the controller already paid half the bill. There was no retaliation,” said Ellis-Marseglia.

“If the controller wanted to give her employees raises, she could do so right now, without a salary board action, but has flatly refused,” said Ellis-Marseglia. “Instead, she has allowed a few employees to accrue thousands of hours of overtime, overworking them while leaving seven positions vacant in her office. She also rejected a motion to add a second deputy to ease the burden on her staff and reign in overtime costs. In any business or workplace, this level of overtime would be considered mismanagement, but with taxpayer dollars, it’s even worse,” she said.


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