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County commissioners detail legislative priorities for 2024

  • Ben Wasserstein/WITF
County Commissioners host a press conference at the Pennsylvania State Capitol

 Ben Wasserstein

County Commissioners host a press conference at the Pennsylvania State Capitol

County commissioners from across the state came to the Capitol Wednesday to discuss what they want to see from the legislature this coming year.

The commissioners outlined eight things they hope will come out of the general assembly. They include issues of funding for 911 and mental health treatment, criminal justice reforms, broadband access and vote by mail reforms.

“These priorities reflect our ongoing commitment to providing exceptional services while using taxpayer dollars in the most effective and efficient way possible,” said Michael Rivera, Berks County Commissioner. “We believe these 2024 priorities reflect county needs that are essential for us to continue successfully providing critical services to Pennsylvania residents.”

In terms of the 911 system, Rivera said technology is evolving. More funding would allow first responders to keep up with those changes and make sure they can communicate effectively.

The commissioners also called for a $250 million increase for county mental health services.

Northampton County Commissioner Lori Vargo Heffner said the investment would boost services to fit the people’s needs.

“This increase would help counties to maintain and rebuild the existing safety net of services,” Heffner said. “Currently, capacity within the services that are available falls short of community needs.”

Heffner said the legislature needs to properly address inmates with mental health issues to rehabilitate them and prevent future run-ins with the criminal justice system. The National Institute of Health has found that patients with severe mental disorders had a 29.7% chance of being incarcerated again.

Juvenile detention center capacity was another point of interest.

Currently, those centers are overcrowded and understaffed. In Philadelphia, for example, a center designed for 184 youths reached 242 in June 2023. That creates difficulty when rehabilitating incarcerated youth, according to Clinton County Commissioner Jeff Snyder.

“We must make it easier to provide sufficient staffing numbers in detention facilities and provide the proper treatment for youth with complex behavioral needs in these proper settings,” Snyder said.

When it comes to vote-by-mail reforms, Union County Commissioner Jeff Reber said counties are focusing on two main things: pre-canvassing and addressing unrealistic mail-in ballot application deadlines.

Pre-canvassing refers to preparing a ballot for tabulation before polls close. This speeds up the counting process. And, right now, the deadline for applying for a mail-in ballot is so close to election day that some voters may miss the deadline for their vote to count.


“Extending the pre-canvassing period would provide additional time for counties to prepare mail in and absentee balance for tabulation, which help counties balance their workloads of resources and will help assure results are available in a very timely manner.

“Also, with the challenges facing the postal system, the deadline to apply for a mail in ballot just a week prior to election day means that there may not be enough time to get the voter’s ballot from the county to the voter and then back to the county before the deadline,” Reber said.

Commissioners also called for a reform of the right-to-know law, mainly in regard to commercial requesters.

When submitting an RTK request, someone has to devote time to find the specific document. With large requests, this can be time consuming and costly. The commissioners are requesting a way to recoup the costs related to complex requests.

Additionally, the commissioners are advocating for increasing broadband access to ensure Pennsylvanians have access to reliable, high speed internet.

They called for increasing the prevailing wage threshold for projects, which is currently triggered at $25,000 for the project. That number was set in the 1960s. When adjusted to inflation, the trigger threshold would be around $250,000.

A prevailing wage is the set hourly wage for laborers on a public project that costs $25,000 or more. It’s intended in part to set a floor for wages on projects.

Counties do not want to change the pay rates but do want to adjust the threshold trigger to the current market.

The current wage requirements increase the cost of projects, Butler County Commissioner Kim Geyer said.

Geyer said raising the threshold would be a more effective use of tax dollars.

“ … counties would be able to again take on smaller projects at local wage rates rather than the prevailing wage rates,” she said. “That means public dollars could be used more efficiently and stretched further to meet the needs of Pennsylvania’s counties and communities.”

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