Commissioners also get update on long-awaited 9-1-1 overhaul
By Kathleen Brady Shea, Managing Editor, The Times
The health of the county’s citizens – and its finances – dominated the Chester County Commissioners’ agenda at their Sunshine Meeting on Tuesday.
Presentations on two key issues, the Pocopson Home and the 9-1-1 system, generated praise and accord – a stark contrast to the dissension that marked earlier discussions.
Alan Larson, the Pocopson Home administrator, presented two plans to increase revenue at the 275-bed, county-owned nursing facility, a follow-up to a series of meetings that explored ownership alternatives for the home. The public response to options such as converting the home to a nonprofit 501c3, leasing it to a private operator, or selling it, drew substantial criticism.
“All of us can agree that the public meetings demonstrated there is a strong desire to keep Pocopson Home the way it is right now; there is a historic connection for a lot of people with Pocopson Home,” said Commissioners’ Chairman Ryan Costello, summing up the public outcry the meetings elicited.
Once a source of profit as well as pride, the facility has been losing well over $1 million for several years. Larson suggested that one way to reduce the red ink would be to convert a 16-bed floor of one building to a short-term rehabilitation unit, a change estimated to fill a need as well as generate about $480,000 a year. Although the full cost of the renovations has not been tallied, Larson estimated the savings would far outweigh expenses.
Another cost-cutting strategy would be to stop out-sourcing the laundering of linens and towels, Larson said, adding that the staff already washes residents’ clothing. He explained that the cost of purchasing equipment would offset the return the first year, which he projected at $88,000; however, the next year’s savings would likely increase to about $180,000.
The commissioners applauded Larson’s efforts to curb expenses and said after the meeting that the measures would likely be implemented, a process that would ultimately involve the normal bidding procedure for capital purchases.
Ed Atkins, the county’s emergency services director, also received kudos from the commissioners – as well as multiple representatives of myriad emergency response agencies – for his update on the county’s long-awaited Voice Radio Project.
A new emergency-services communications system is critical to protect citizens as well as first-responders, Atkins said, describing the current system as outdated. Downingtown Police Chief James R. McGowan III went a step further, calling it dangerous. “It puts the lives of our public safety people at risk,” McGowan said. “If we’re not safe, citizens aren’t safe.”
Although few have disagreed that the system needs to be overhauled, a plan by the commissioners this past summer to defray 9-1-1 expenses by reinstating a per-capita tax of about $5.20 per resident generated such sharp criticism from municipal officials that the commissioners abandoned the idea.
Since then, Atkins said falling costs and skilled negotiating by legal counsel resulted in lower pricetags for the project than previously anticipated. He said after a careful analysis of three bids with input from a volunteer advisory committee, he recommended a package from Harris Corp., which uses Metropolitan Communications, an Exton firm, as a sub-contractor. Under the proposal, the implementation and maintenance of the system would cost $27.4 million for two years, or up to $42.1 million for an extended-warranty that covered 10 years, county officials said.
McGowan, one of the volunteers and the former head of the Chester County Police Chiefs’ Association, called the process “the most inclusive, participatory” one he had seen in 40 years of public-safety service. His remarks were echoed by Ray Stackhouse, who heads the Chester County Fire Chiefs’ Association, Leo R. Scaccia, past president of the Chester County Emergency Services Council, and Ron Miller, president of the Northern Chester County Fire Chiefs’ Association.
“The No. 1 thing we need is communication; we would not be in this room together if we didn’t agree,” said Scaccia. He said each of the committee members consulted with the rank-and-file, resulting in hundreds of voices that were heard during the process.
Atkins said the contract is in the works and could be ready for approval in two weeks.