West Chester — As the county commissioners voted to OK a $513 million budget for 2021 in a year in which the county spent well over $552 million by September’s end, County Commissioner Michelle Kichline prefaced the vote by acknowledging 2020 has been “a year that rewrites” what it means to lead.
“When sorrows come, they come not in single spies, but in battalions,” Kichline said, quoting William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.” “We have seen isolation, depression, and undeniable economic loss. And we know the coming weeks will be extremely tough. But we are approaching the holidays, and this is a season of light, for all religions.”
Once the batallions of line items are totaled, the county expects to spend $39 million less than it did from the previous year’s budget.
Much of the budget is expected to go to personnel ($179 million) and operating costs ($93.7 million), along with payments to service providers ($127.6 million) and debt service costs ($55.6 million).
Chester County’s budget, which will go into effect in January 2021 and run through December, included a 13 percent increase for managed behavioral healthcare, with the county requesting $106,120,265, up from the $93,606,773 spent into September of this year.
Community Development spending sees a dramatic 28.6 percent drop from the $33.7 million that was spent thus far in 2020, down to $24,066,177 requested for 2021. In the Department of Human Services budget, spending for 2020 was $3.3 million up until the end of September, but the requested amount of $2.49 million for 2021, marking a nearly 25 percent drop or $825,224.
The budget also allocates $5 million for Chester County’s 16 member libraries.
With the lion’s share of county revenues tied to federal and state grants and real estate taxes, the county’s preliminary budget anticipates government grant money of over $213 million and $176 million in real estate taxes. Of course, federal and state grants are unknown and the pandemic is still ending lives and creating chaos everywhere and commissioners noted this when approving the preliminary budget. No public comment was made at the digitally broadcast meeting.
But the county’s COVID expenditures lines show big differences for 2021, as people across the globe hope a coming immunization will curb this pandemic.
Much of the county’s efforts in 2020 wound up being spent on unknowns – like the $48.5 million listed in the “COVID-19 Operating” budget line, along with $725K listed for “COVID-19 Provider Payment.” A side by side comparison listed on the budget shows a marked reduction for 2021, with $392,000 requested for the coming year under “COVID-19 Operating” and a blank left for “COVID-19 Provider Payment.”
County officials shared that a significant reduction in hotel tax revenue, which supports the Chester County-owned parks and trails, was yet another COVID-19 impact on the budget.
Commissioners expressed gratitude for the efforts of health care workers, government workers and the public in the ongoing effort to end the pandemic.
Commissioner Josh Maxwell said he was impressed with the “unbelievable dedication of the County Health Department to saving lives. We are in a time that is not like anything we have seen before. I could not be prouder of the efforts.”
Commission Chair Marian Moskowitz noted that the county’s COVID-19 cases and deaths have been on the rise – as is the case with the rest of the nation. As of December 9, known cases in the county now number 14,470, and 420 deaths are attributed to the pandemic.
“It is an important time for us to remember to enjoy the holidays, but at home, and follow the health guidelines,” she said.