Important election day for Montgomery County (PA)

This Tuesday, November 8 Montgomery County (PA) voters will face crucial decisions on the future health and welfare of the County in an election that will address the makeup of County leadership and management of 11 row offices. 

In the headline contest Republican candidates Jenny Brown and Bruce Castor faceoff against Democrats Josh Shapiro and Leslie Richards for control of the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners.  On election day, voters will cast ballots for TWO preferred commissioners.  The top three vote-getters will assume seats on the Commissioners Board, thus ensuring one minority representative will serve with two from the majority party.   

As background, the 2007 election for the County Commissioners Board was waylaid by the duplicitous Republican-elect Jim Matthews, when he worked a backroom, split-management deal with Democrat minority member, Joe Hoeffel.  Matthews’ low-handed dealings betrayed the wishes of the County’s electorate – a vote that demanded a Republican-controlled Commissioners Board – by essentially handing de facto control to Hoeffel.  Matthews’ behavior left him isolated from his own party and dependent on Hoeffel’s concurrence to get anything accomplished.  Democrat Hoeffel had unprecedented control – for a minority party board member – over patronage, contracts and budget decisions.

The issue of who was really in charge of the Montgomery County Board over the past term is an important distinction, because as of February 2011, the County possessed a $435 MILLION bonded debt obligation.  This is a RECORD HIGH for Montgomery County!  The County budget for Fiscal Year 2012 (FY12) is already $25 million short in projected revenues!  And in September the County’s Treasurer, Tom Ellis reported that the County’s Financial Health Index (the ratio between cash reserves and debt service) projects to 0.63-to-1 for FY12, where a ratio of 2-1 would be considered “unhealthy”. 

The solution posed by current Democrat County Controller Diane Morgan to improve the County financial picture by pursuing fraud, waste and duplication is not a strategy that instills much confidence when looking at a $435 million hole.  

As Whitemarsh Supervisor, Leslie Richards oversaw an amazing 8-fold increase in township debt – from $1.8 million to $15.0 million!  So one can assume that a Shapiro-Richards-controlled Commissioners Board could very well continue a budget philosophy of spend-spend-spend, despite their pronouncements in favor of a “zero-based budgeting” approach to County finances.  Josh Shapiro already has a record of raising taxes; and his solution for fixing the traffic problems on Rt 422 is to leverage funding from the State and Federal Government. 

My understanding of leveraging includes the promise of putting up substantial funds (more borrowing!) to demonstrate a financial commitment which is then used to elicit funding from other sources, in this case the State and federal government.  More fiscal insanity is not the response taxpayers want!

The solution favored by the Brown-Castor team is to slash expenditures while in the pursuit of gambling income from the new Valley Forge Convention Center casino development.  This has the potential for being a tax-neutral solution, assuming the County can successfully reverse a state law that prevents direct Montgomery County control over its share of casino proceeds, a flawed – and unfair – state law fully supported by Shapiro in his duties as a State Representative.  Instead the Pennsylvania Financing Authority controls MontCo’s funds from gambling revenue, the funds limited to use in treating sites with environmental contamination in preparation for future business redevelopment.  Bucks County – on the other hand – enjoys direct and complete control over its portion of revenue from the Parx casino because somehow that casino is licensed under a different classification than the proposed Valley Forge development.  (Confusing? Yes.)

It’s not difficult to recognize which debt solution makes the most sense in these troubling economic times or which team is best positioned to pursue it.    

Both Jenny Brown and Bruce Castor have well-respected records as government leaders.  Brown has served as Commissioner in Lower Merion Township since 2005.  Castor, after a successful term as Montgomery County District Attorney, was elected to the Montgomery County Commission in 2007. 

For these reasons, the right votes are for Jenny Brown and Bruce Castor for Montgomery County Commissioners!

 

On the subject of Row Office candidates, I have provided my impressions on several occasions.

I have been much impressed by several of the female row office and judicial candidates, particularly Eileen Behr for Sheriff, Maureen Coggins for Judge on the Court of Common Pleas,  and of course Risa Vetri Ferman, who is running for re-election after a superb term as Montgomery County’s District Attorney. 

Another strong Republican contender is William “Bill” Donnelly for Prothonotary (Clerk of the Court for Common Pleas), who led a modernization effort during a previous term, achieving recognition as one of the most efficient such offices in the country. 

Normally, I’m one to loath suggesting that anyone pull the straight party lever when they enter the voting booth.  But frankly, I cannot find a single candidate on the Montgomery County Republican ballot that I will not support with my own vote!

Whatever your voting inclinations, DO NOT forsake this opportunity to set the course for Montgomery County’s future!  Get out and vote!

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