Priorities: Counties Work to Improve Communities, Quality of Life
Doug Hill, Executive Director, County Commissioners Association of
are countless ways that Pennsylvania residents interact with their county
governments every day, probably without even realizing it – everything from
services for those with mental illness, intellectual disabilities and substance
abuse issues, to child abuse investigations, to local court operations, to
marriage certificates, mortgage, deeds and other document recording, to
property assessment, to 911 call-taking and dispatch, to local bridges and mass
transit and much more.
the leaders of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties have chosen seven priorities for 2018
that reflect this wide range of services. But more than that, our 2018
priorities are our promise to the residents of this state to work together with
the commonwealth on solutions that better meet the needs of Pennsylvanians,
reduce costs, assure quality services and make sure every taxpayer dollar is
being used effectively.
top priority for 2018 focuses on the crucial human services and supports we
provide that protect the most vulnerable. Our capacity to meet needs, though,
has been strained by a steady decrease in state funding for more than a decade
while mandates and caseloads continue to increase.
primary example of caseload growth in recent years is the nearly 30 new child
welfare laws enacted in 2015. Washington County has experienced a 35 percent
increase in referrals since the laws were implemented; Lebanon County, a 40
percent increase; and some counties, more than 100 percent increases. But these
new laws came without any additional state support, leaving our county children
and youth agencies struggling to perform this important responsibility.
need the state and federal government to commit full funding that recognizes
our mutual commitment to serve our citizens across all human services programs,
and to review and identify potential reforms in the scope and administration of
human services programs to better reflect our state-county partnership.
driving service needs is the toll of the opioid epidemic. For instance, a
record 38 people died from overdoses in Lycoming County in 2017, while the
Lawrence County coroner has had twice the number of autopsies than usual
because of the crisis. This trend has become a major cost driver across county
budgets for drug and alcohol services and other human services areas.
have seen progress in recent years, for example by expanding access to the
overdose-reversal drug naloxone and by continuing to implement “warm handoff”
protocols to help get overdose survivors directly into treatment. However, more
can and must be done. For that reason, counties support the Governor’s recent
action to declare the heroin and opioid crisis as a statewide disaster
emergency. Counties have a critical role in addressing the epidemic, and
increased collaboration between state and local officials to develop and
implement a comprehensive approach, coupled with additional resources to expand
local capacity, is important to the success of these efforts.
also support, as a priority, increasing access to forensic beds in state
hospitals for county inmates with mental illness and developmental
disabilities. While the state and counties are already taking important steps
to address this issue, it is a crisis that fails to effectively or
compassionately address human need.
we need a greater focus on expanding resources and treatment options for
individuals with mental illness or a developmental disability, both within and
outside of the prison system. Sadly, county jails have become our nation’s
largest mental health facilities, and 19 counties have already adopted a
resolution to actively support the national Stepping Up movement to reduce the
number of people with mental illnesses in jails. Clinton County recently noted,
as it approved new prison employees to focus specifically on mental health
care, that it is more cost-effective to provide mental health services than to
house an inmate; if they don’t make those investments up front, 60 percent of
inmates will likely return within three years.
other areas where additional support is needed are in veterans’ services and in
voting systems. To the first, counties provide important services to our
veterans to assist them in their return to civilian life. But we can do better
to keep our promise to support veterans and their families after the trauma of
active service, and as a priority counties support federal and state resources
to assure programs and services are adequate, timely and appropriate for
also take pride in their responsibility to maintain the integrity of the
election system, from voter registration until the last vote is counted. But
most voting equipment is approaching the end of its useful life and will need to be
replaced in the next few years. These replacement costs can quickly add up,
with nearly 40,000 voting machines operated by our counties and the latest
computerized machines costing between $2,500 and $3,000 each – not including
programming, supplies and maintenance. We will need state and federal
assistance to continue to uphold our responsibility for a fair and accessible
all of these issues, counties continue to monitor ongoing state discussions
regarding the potential of placing a severance tax on the natural gas industry.
Our priority is to maintain the shale gas impact fee that was established in
2012, regardless of these discussions, keeping impact fee distributions as
currently structured to benefit impacted local governments as well as counties
throughout the commonwealth for at-risk bridges and environmental purposes.
cannot achieve any of these priorities alone. Although they all reflect state-mandated
functions of counties, they are better thought of as a partnership between
county and state government. Our final priority, itself an underlying theme
across all of our priorities, is a pledge by counties to re-engage the General
Assembly and the administration in understanding and respecting the
state-county partnership from both a financial and regulatory perspective.
counties are many things, but first and foremost, Pennsylvania counties are
here to serve you. We take these priorities seriously, and we are committed to
working together to achieve them.
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The County Commissioners Association of
Pennsylvania (CCAP) is the voice of county government; a statewide nonprofit,
nonpartisan association representing all 67 counties in Pennsylvania. CCAP
members include county commissioners, council members, county executives, administrators,
chief clerks and solicitors. CCAP strengthens the counties’ abilities to govern
their own affairs and improve the well-being and quality of life for every
Pennsylvania resident. It advocates for favorable state and federal
legislation, programs and policies on behalf of counties. CCAP is committed to
service excellence through education, information, insurance, technology and
other programs that support effective county government. Founded in 1886, CCAP
is an affiliate of the National Association of Counties.