County OKs $520 million budget with 4.9% tax hike

 Not even Leo, the new county K-9, elicits bark of protest

By Kathleen Brady Shea, Managing Editor, The Times

K-9 Leo waits for his turn in the spotlight at the county commissioners’ meeting with his handler, John DiBuonaventuro, a longtime first responder and Tredyffrin Township supervisor

The Chester County Commissioners on Thursday approved a $520 million budget for 2013 – a blueprint that contains a 4.9 percent tax hike – but agriculture and animals, not finances, dominated their last meeting of the year.

Before the unanimous vote on the $519,971,824 budget – which includes a ½-mill tax hike that translates to $32.86 for a property assessed at the median value of $165,760 – the commissioners recognized a crop of individuals who have made notable contributions to local farming.

David and Roberta Rotelle, who operate September Farm in Honey Brook, received the Farmer of the Year award for serving as role models in the industry. The 82-acre farm – home to 50 Holsteins as well as the Rotelle’s five children – annually produces 50,000 pounds of award-winning cheese.

David and Roberta Rotelle, who operate September Farm in Honey Brook, accept the Farmer of the Year award at the county commissioners’ meeting.

“It really is a privilege and a blessing,” said David Rotelle in accepting the honor. He said the success of the farm’s 24 varieties of cheese, 65 percent of which is sold on the premises, enables the family to operate a sustainable business. The cheese won acclaim from the American Cheese Society in 2009, 2010, and 2011; it also received a taste-test award from Cooking Light magazine in 2012.

Two other individuals received Distinguished Service Awards for their agricultural contributions. Terry Brett, owner of Kimberton Whole Foods, which is about to open its fifth grocery store, was cited for selling 17 percent of locally-sourced products. The stores specialize in natural and organic goods.

Larry Welsch, the executive director of the Chester County Food Bank, was lauded for a series of innovative programs that promote farming and benefit the needy. Since 2003, Welsch has advanced the gleaning program, which has collected over 250,000 pounds of surplus produce from 45 farms. He has also spearheaded the community raised-bed initiative, which has established gardens at schools, churches, and businesses.

Following the farming accolades, a black German shepherd seized the limelight. Chester County Sheriff Carolyn “Bunny” Welsh introduced the commissioners to Leo, a 10-month-old East German shepherd who will be trained in accelerant detection. His owner and handler, John “J.D.” DiBuonaventuro, is a longtime first-responder who will be deputized as a K-9 arson investigation team.

Celebrating the addition of K-9 Leo to the county’s arson arsenal are Assistant District Attorney Tom Ost-Prisco, Fire Marshal Harrison Holt, Sheriff Carolyn “Bunny” Welsh, Commissioner Ryan Costello, John DiBuonaventuro, Commissioners’ Chairman Terence Farrell, and Commissioner Kathi Cozzone.

Welsh said she planted the seed for the partnership with DiBuonaventuro, vice-chairman of the Tredyffrin Township Board of Supervisors, a little over a year ago. She said DiBuonaventuro had lost a black British Labrador retriever in 2010. And although he vowed he would not replace him, Welsh said when he saw that one of her office’s K-9s was solid black, he was smitten.

It took four litters before the Von der Haus Gill Kennel in Ohio had a pure black puppy available, Welsh said, adding that Leo entered the world on a fitting date: Feb. 14.

“It was a natural next step for me,” said DiBuonaventuro, the co-founder of the Chester County Hero Fund and chairman of the Chester County Public Safety Training Facility. Thanking the sheriff and the commissioners for the opportunity, he said as he nears his 60th birthday,  “this is a great way to stay in service.”

Since DiBuonaventuro purchased the dog himself and will receive private funding for the certification training that he and Leo are scheduled to complete in the spring, there’s no cost to the county, Welsh said. Leo will join five other K-9s in the sheriff’s office:  one trained in narcotics detection and four bomb-sniffers.

“What has been lacking in fire investigations was a detection canine,” Fire Marshal Harrison Holt told the commissioners. “This is an incredible resource for Chester County.”

Holt explained that the dog’s nose is far superior to a human’s and can zero in on an accelerant. In the past, investigators had to take hundreds of samples from a fire scene for testing if a dog could not be borrowed from Maryland, Delaware County or Philadelphia. And sometimes even the chemists miss materials that the dogs can find, he said.

Assistant District Attorney Tom Ost-Prisco, a firefighter who handles the county’s arson cases, agreed that the dog’s expertise would greatly aid prosecutions.

Finally, all three commissioners applauded the stellar career of Margaret Rivello, head of the county’s Health Department, who is retiring after 41 years. County Chief Operating Officer Mark Rupsis said Rivello was a recent speaker at the county’s School of Government. “It was impressive,” Rupsis said, explaining that she had instituted numerous programs that became statewide models.





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