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Chester County’s Eric Roe: Minimum Wage Hike Would Hurt Small Biz, Cost Jobs

Delaware Valley county officials–with the sole exception of Chester County Republican Commissioner Eric Roe–signed a letter penned by Philadelphia Mayor Cherelle Parker asking Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro to raise the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour.

The March 22 letter said, in part, “Pennsylvanian’s current minimum of $7.25 is the lowest of our surrounding states. (In New Jersey, it is $15.13; in Delaware, it’s $13.25.)

“This ultimately puts a strain on Pennsylvania’s families, leaving little left over to cover basic necessities, let alone saving or investing for their future. Raising the minimum wage is not only an investment in our residents but also an investment in the state’s future.”

The letter referenced the left-leaning MIT Living Wage Calculator claiming the hourly “living wage” for a person with no children in Bucks County is $25.15, $26.49 in Chester County in Delaware County, $23.58; in Montgomery County, $25.46 and $22.29 in Philadelphia County.

But Roe said Democrats were getting the economics wrong.

“The inconvenient truth is that markets have always done a better job of pulling people out of poverty than governments ever have. Many companies are already offering starting pay at well over $15 per hour, and they still have trouble finding people to take those jobs. If we want jobs that give workers a sustainable living wage, then we need to get government out of the way. That’s why I declined to sign that letter,” Roe said.

Federal data confirm that while Pennsylvania’s mandatory wage is low, the state ranks 20th in the nation for highest average annual salary ($58,470).

As for Keystone State workers earning hourly wages, their $28.11/hour in 2023 was the 19th highest in the U.S.

One other key fact about the minimum wage in Pennsylania, notes Commonwealth Foundation Director of Policy Analysis Elizabeth Stelle: Just one percent of the workforce has minimum wage jobs.

“Unfortunately, a $15 minimum wage would hurt the very people it intends to help, resulting in fewer jobs, weaker benefits, and higher prices,” Stelle said. “Just last week, the IFO (state Independent Fiscal Office) found that increasing the minimum wage to $15 would kill 21,000 jobs.

“If our elected leaders want to raise wages without eliminating jobs, they should ask Gov. Shapiro to cut taxes and eliminate government red tape. We need to hold the governor accountable for reducing business taxes—just as he promised.”

Both Bucks County Republican Commissioner Gene DiGirolamo and Montgomery County Republican Commissioner Tom DiBello signed the letter. DiGirolamo did not respond to a request for comment. DiBello, however, defended his support for a mandatory wage hike.

“I joined my fellow leaders in Philadelphia, Montgomery, Bucks, Chester, and Delaware Counties in supporting a maximum $15 minimum wage because, by and large, that threshold has already been met by many of our region’s companies,” said DiBello. “Businesses need to offer competitive pay to attract quality employees. In most cases, the market sets the level of pay.   By recognizing the realities of the current workforce’s pay and the importance of attracting quality employees, the market has already set the minimum wage.

“In reality, I’m only supporting what is already occurring, nothing more,” said DiBello.

“I like them and respect them both, They have very different districts from me,” Roe said of his fellow Republican commissioners. However, as the minority commissioner, Roe said, he sees it as his job to “be different” from the Democratic majority and speak up if he disagrees with a policy.

“I didn’t hesitate to say no when asked to sign that letter,” said Roe.

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Bucks Chiefs of Police to County Commissioners: Fix Broken Prison System

In a letter to the Bucks County Commissioners, the solicitor for the Bucks County Police Chiefs Association decried the poor county management that has led to a lack of staff at the Bucks County Correctional Facility (BCCF). That staffing shortage has “started to severely affect policing functions in various municipalities of Bucks County,” Solicitor Richard Hale Pratt wrote in a letter obtained by the Delaware Valley Journal.

How?

“In certain circumstances, BCCF has either been closed to the entry of new prisoners or has refused to accept new prisoners due to alleged issues with ‘medical clearance,’” Pratt said. That “has a direct impact upon Bucks County police departments in the performance of their duties consistent with public safety.”

The prison’s refusal to take new inmates “shifts responsibility to the police department having custody of those persons for extended periods of time,” so “an individual police department must either house the person or assign officers to guard the person (such as in a hospital setting in cases of medical issues) thereby draining a police department’s manpower and the resources that are better applied to protecting the public.”

Pratt added that in many instances, prisoners have been released on unsecured bail when they usually would be required to post bail.

“Bensalem Police Department has had to conduct numerous security details at Doylestown Hospital and Jefferson Torresdale Hospital” because the BCCF refused to take new prisoners who needed “medical clearance.”

They were defendants who were arraigned by a district justice and remanded to prison but are suffering from drug withdrawal or might have high blood pressure, Pratt said.

Sheriff Fred Harran discussed the issues in a recent DV Journal podcast.

“It’s not an ‘R’ and a ‘D’ thing,” said Harran, a 38-year law enforcement professional. “It’s a safety and a police thing. They just don’t want to support the police. I’ve been quiet as long as I can, and I hate to say it, but this is the time for change.”

The letter noted that district justices have become reluctant to set bail because of the “mess of the prisoner intake at BCCF.”

Bucks County now faces increased civil liability, Pratt said. Also, having officers tied up guarding prisoners who should be in jail prevents officers from patrolling the streets and other duties. Smaller departments are especially hard hit by this, Pratt said.

There is also an increased risk of harm to officers by holding prisoners overnight in spaces not designed for that and a chance of defendants escaping. Police departments are not equipped to provide meals, and a prisoner “could literally be sitting on a bench all night waiting for BCCF to pen,” Pratt said.

Pratt asked the county commissioners to address the situation immediately.

“The issue is that the jail does not have a medical component to it,” Harran said. “So the jail will not accept anybody that has any type of medical problem.”

Harran added, “So you have high blood pressure, they make you go to the hospital, and now you’re taking police officers off the streets to go sit at a hospital while a person gets cleared, and you’re posing a potential danger to the hospital.”

Controller Pam Van Blunk and minority Republican Commissioner Gene DiGirolamo are backing Harran. Van Blunk and DiGirolamo are running for commissioner and are on the Nov. 7 ballot.

“Not taking in prisoners when they are brought to the prison causes tremendous problems in all of our townships and boroughs. It takes police officers off the street when they should be responding to our 911 calls and preventing crime by patrolling our streets and neighborhoods,” the two candidates said in a statement to DVJournal.

Harran also slammed the majority Democrats Chair Bob Harvie and Vice Chair Diane Marseglia for their stance that crime has not risen in the county, saying the two are using old numbers.

Harran shared troubling statistics about the rise in crime in Bucks County last year. According to the Pennsylvania Uniform Crime Reporting System, serious crime increased 18.7 percent between 2021 and 2022. That is 50 percent higher than the stateside increase of 12.7 percent.

In the county, robbery increased by 22.7 percent compared to 13.7 percent statewide; burglary in Bucks increased by 32.9 percent but only 5.9 percent in the state; and auto theft increased by 30.6 percent in Bucks and 27.7 percent in the commonwealth.

“Despite these facts, Commissioners Marseglia and Harvie continue to repeat the same old line that crime is not up,” DiGirolamo and Van Blunk said. “Saying it isn’t, or using old statistics during the COVID closures, doesn’t make it true, and ignoring the problem does not make it go away. Instead, we must support our law enforcement officers and give them the resources they need to keep us safe.

“That is why we gladly voted at a Salary Board meeting to add eight new deputies to help with the dangerous backlog of 7,500 unserved bench warrants.”

Harran said he has only received funding so far for two of those promised new deputies.

Marseglia and Harvie did not respond to a request for comment.

 

Dynamic GOP Duo Hope to Retake Bucks County

With two strong candidates running for county commissioner, the Bucks County GOP hopes to win the majority by defeating Democrats Bob Harvie and Diane Marseglia-Ellis in the November 7 election.

Incumbent Republican Commissioner Gene DiGirolamo and county Controller Pamela Van Blunk said Democrats are trying to nationalize the county election with issues like abortion that are not under the purview of the county commissioners. Instead, the two Republicans are focused on local concerns such as public safety.

“Crime has increased significantly in the past year,” Van Blunk said. “We’re going to back our law enforcement.” The two have the support of Bucks County Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 53.

According to the Pennsylvania Uniform Crime Reporting System, serious crime increased in Bucks County by 18.7 percent between 2021 and 2022. That was 50 percent higher than the statewide increase of 12.7 percent.

“Gene and I would like to meet with the law enforcement leaders regularly to hear what they need, what kind of assistance,” said Van Blunk.

“We’ve always supported our police,” said DiGirolamo, who received state FOP support during his 25 years in the state legislature. He is now running for a second term on the county board.

“They are a fantastic team,” said Pat Poprik, chair of the Bucks Republican Party. “I believe Gene’s background with the opioid and drug issue is [valuable]; this is a problem we’re facing in this county.” Poprik is referencing DiGirolamo’s time as chairman of the Pennsylvania House Human Services Committee. But he also has a personal connection to the addiction problem.

“I’ve been very open about this. I had a son who was a heroin addict,” DiGirolamo told DVJournal. “I understand what it was like for a family to go through something like that. Thank God my son got in recovery and got help.

“I also have a daughter with a severe mental health issue, but she’s doing very good today,” DiGirolamo added. “A lot of what you do as an elected official in public service comes from what you go through in life. For me, the best part of the job is helping people.”

Poprik says DiGirolamo’s experience in human services and Van Blunk’s comptroller work make them “the perfect match.”

DiGirolamo and Van Blunk are unhappy with how the Democrats are running county government.

“One thing that’s bothered me is the commissioners are responsible for appointing a lot of people on boards and committees,” said DiGirolamo. “Through these last three and a half years, I’ve been really disappointed in the Democrats taking people off these [volunteer] boards and committees, qualified people who have been doing a great job, for political reasons, because they’re Republicans and putting people on who are Democrats. I’ve voted against removing people, but the vote is 2-1. These are people who want to be reappointed.”

“These boards are not supposed to be political. They’re supposed to be bipartisan. I’ll keep a good person on the job.”

The two also promised to be transparent and slammed Democrats for fighting two moms, Megan Brock and Jamie Walker, in court over disclosing emails that show their thinking during the COVID pandemic.

“Right now, the Democratic commissioners are suing two moms, hiding documents. Gene and I don’t hide our emails. And we think the county government should be transparent,” said Van Blunk.

“Transparency is paramount to democracy. As an elected official, you have to be transparent with everything you do,” said DiGirolamo, who was in Harrisburg when the legislature passed the open records law.

“I have never one time in 30 years refused an open records request,” he said.

The cases against Walker and Brock are “a huge waste of taxpayer dollars. They are paying outside counsel. They are also using in-house counsel. And they have spent a lot of time and a lot of money not releasing these emails. And they were also sanctioned; Bucks County was sanctioned twice at $1,5000 a pop by a local judge. Judge Denise Bowman sanctioned them after an in-camera (in chambers) review. Judges do not sanction very often,” said Van Blunk.

Van Blunk said, “Gene and I would bring back decorum during the commissioners’ meetings. We represent all of Bucks County residents. Just because somebody has a divergent point of view from us does not merit ridicule. The Democrat commissioners are actively laughing at people who come up and make comments. I’ve seen them visibly laughing, which is completely unprofessional.”

DiGiralomo said, “I’ve been doing this for 30 years. If you’re not getting criticized, you’re not doing your job. Criticism can be very helpful. First, it gives an opportunity to explain. Second, it allows you to re-evaluate why you did something and maybe change your mind.”

“You can’t make everybody happy all the time. It’s impossible. But if you make a decision that’s controversial, you’ve got to be able to explain why you made that decision,” he said.

DiGiolamo grew up on his family’s farm in Bensalem and continued to farm and run a farm stand until it became untenable as the township became more developed.

After serving as the township auditor and on its drug and alcohol board, he was elected state representative when former Sen. Tommy Tomlinson ran for the state Senate.

Van Blunk grew up in Central New Jersey but says, “I’ve lived in Bucks County half my life.”

The pair promised to be careful stewards of taxpayers’ money.

The current Democratic commissioners are “very proud of the fact they haven’t raised taxes,” Van Blunk said. “However, they’re omitting the (millions) they’ve received in (COVID relief funding) and the long-term lease of Lake Galena and the opioid settlement.”

As county controller, Van Blunk has saved money by finding waste and abuse, including rental assistance that was approved but had been applied for fraudulently.

“We caught a guy literally faking his mother’s death certificate to try and collect rent from his mother’s home,” said Van Blunk.

During the pandemic, DiGirolamo was able to steer COVID relief money to small businesses to keep them operating.

“Pretty close to a third [of the funding] went to small businesses, not loans but grants they applied for,” said DiGirolamo. “I think that was a good use of the money. In my mind, there is nothing more Republican than helping small business owners.”

Harvie and Marseglia-Ellis did not respond to requests for an interview.

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