Clash

Springfield Sun - - NEWS -

to Lee Soltysiak, deputy chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer. ELON ap­plied for a 10-year LERTA, mean­ing the fa­cil­ity’s prop­erty taxes would grad­u­ally in­crease each year from the cur­rent base rate to the new re­assessed rate in the fi­nal year.

Nor­ris­town Bor­ough and Nor­ris­town Area School District had al­ready signed off on the pro­ject be­fore the board gave it the fi­nal OK.

Gale ob­jected to the deal say­ing it wasn’t fair to prop­erty own­ers.

“It’s very hard to tell the prop­erty own­ers across Mont­gomery County that have been whacked with a 21 per­cent tax in­crease over the course of two years that we’re au­tho­riz­ing tax abate­ments to de­vel­op­ers,” he said. “And I don’t think that’s fair to the av­er­age res­i­dent that’s faced with that bur­den.”

‘Sweet­heart deals’

The Mont­gomery Park pro­ject was just the lat­est ex­am­ple of a pat­tern of “sweet­heart deals” the county made dat­ing back to 2013 that ben­e­fit­ted cam­paign donors, Gale charged. Arkoosh was tak­ing a page from the play­book of her pre­de­ces­sor, Josh Shapiro, the for­mer com­mis­sion­ers’ chair­man, a Demo­crat and cur­rent Penn­syl­va­nia at­tor­ney gen­eral, he said.

In ad­di­tion to the pro­ject in Nor­ris­town, Gale men­tioned four other board de­ci­sions dat­ing back to 2013 which he took ex­cep­tion to given they ben­e­fit­ted cam­paign con­trib­u­tors:

• At its Feb. 2, 2017 meet­ing, the board unan­i­mously voted to award de­vel­oper Kevin Sil­verang spe­cial tax ex­emp­tion for a pro­ject in the Bor­ough of Hat­boro. Sil­verang’s wife, Clau­dia Sil­verang, has do­nated $2,500 to the joint Shapiro/arkoosh cam­paign ac­count and a to­tal of $14,500 to Shapiro’s cam­paign com­mit­tee. The Hat­boro pro­ject con­verted the aban­doned com­plex into an 85 unit apart­ment com­plex, with ap­prox­i­mately 1,500 feet of com­mer­cial, re­tail/restau­rant space. Hat­boro Town­ship and Hat­boro Hor­sham School District both ap­proved the LERTA re­quest be­fore the com­mis­sion­ers signed off. The town­ship gave the OK on July 25, 2016, and the school district did the same on Sept. 19, 2016. The county also re­ceived letters of sup­port from the town­ship, the school district and the Mont­gomery County Plan­ning Com­mis­sion.

Sil­verang is also the ben­e­fi­ciary of a sale/lease­back agree­ment in which the county sold its Hu­man Ser­vices build­ing to him for $17.5 million and then agreed to lease back the build­ing for $34.5 million in rent over the course of 15 years, ac­cord­ing to Gale. In that sit­u­a­tion, the county no longer wanted to be the land­lord of the build­ing when it was only us­ing a small por­tion of it. County of­fi­cials said they felt the county could save money on main­te­nance costs to sell the build­ing and lease back a por­tion of it. It made more sense in the long run to sell it, and Sil­verang just hap­pened to be the high­est bid­der, of­fi­cials said. County pol­icy says to sell to the high­est bid­der, re­gard­less of who it is, they said.

• At the Dec. 1, 2016 meet­ing, the board voted 2-1 (with Gale dis­sent­ing) to award Westrum De­vel­op­ment Co. spe­cial tax ex­emp­tions as well as a tax for­give­ness of $40,000 owed in county taxes, in ad­di­tion to for­give­ness of more than $750,000 in taxes owed to Nor­ris­town Area School District and Nor­ris­town mu­nic­i­pal­ity. At that meet­ing, Michael Clarke, the solic­i­tor of the Nor­ris­town Area school board, urged the com­mis­sion­ers to vote for the pro­ject. Michael Clarke has do­nated $2,500 to Arkoosh’s cam­paign ac­count, Gale said. How­ever, the bor­ough and the Nor­ris­town Area School District al­ready signed off on for­giv­ing the more than $750,000 in liens held against the prop­erty. The county’s vote to for­give the roughly $40,000 owed to it was the last step in a deal that was a con­di­tion of a new de­vel­oper in pur­chas­ing the prop­erty. County deputy Solic­i­tor Josh Stein said at the time the county gen­er­ally abides by the de­sires of the elected mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties and school boards.

• Gale also echoed com­plaints he made dur­ing the Sept. 15 com­mis­sion­ers’ meet­ing when he sus­pected po­lit­i­cal fa­voritism in the con­tract for North Hills Manor and Crest Manor projects un­der­taken by the Mont­gomery County Hous­ing Author­ity. The win­ner of that con­tract, Pen­nrose Prop­er­ties LLC, was a cam­paign donor to Shapiro and Arkoosh, as well as for­mer com­mis­sioner Les­lie Richards, also a Demo­crat. The county chipped in about $1 million of the pro­ject’s roughly $17 million bud­get. Yet for­mer Solic­i­tor Ray­mond Mc­garry and Joel John­son, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Mont­gomery County Hous­ing Author­ity, each pre­vi­ously ver­i­fied that the author­ity’s board worked in­de­pen­dently of the com­mis­sion­ers when award­ing the con­tract to Pen­nrose.

• Gale lastly re­cy­cled a com­plaint about Shapiro’s re­la­tion­ship with Is­rael Roiz­man and Roiz­man De­vel­op­ment. The de­vel­oper do­nated heav­ily to Shapiro’s cam­paigns over the years. In the cam­paign fi­nance re­port­ing cy­cle end­ing April 2, 2013, Is­rael Roiz­man had do­nated $22,500 to Friends of Josh Shapiro. On April 4, 2013, Shapiro par­tic­i­pated in a 3-0 vote to pro­vide Roiz­man De­vel­op­ment with a low-in­ter­est loan of $937,103 from the county’s Af­ford­able Hous­ing Trust Fund for an ager­e­stricted de­vel­op­ment in Whitemarsh Town­ship.

“The orig­i­nal loan amount was ap­proved for $937,103,” Soltysiak said pre­vi­ously. “The pro­ject came in un­der the orig­i­nal bud­get and they ul­ti­mately only spent $750,000 of that amount which will be paid back ac­cord­ing to the terms of the loan.”

Un­der the Penn­syl­va­nia’s Ethics Act, Shapiro’s vote on the loan did not con­sti­tute a con­flict of in­ter­est.

“There is no pro­hi­bi­tion from ac­cept­ing a cam­paign do­na­tion from an in­di­vid­ual and then par­tic­i­pat­ing in a mo­tion or some type of ac­tion that would af­fect that donor un­less it can be de­ter­mined that there is an ar­range­ment,” Robert P. Caruso, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the State Ethics Com­mis­sion, said pre­vi­ously.

Caruso was not com­ment­ing specif­i­cally on the cir­cum­stances of the April 4, 2013 vote, but on whether the Ethics Act re­quires a pub­lic of­fi­cial to ab­stain from votes in­volv­ing donors. Caruso went on to ex­plain that if some­one be­lieves an ar­range­ment has been made, they can file a com­plaint to the com­mis­sion.

To Gale, each of these ac­tions

“I feel as the mi­nor­ity com­mis­sioner I have a moral obli­ga­tion to point out the shame­ful be­hav­ior.” — Joe Gale, Mont­gomery County Com­mis­sioner

Val Arkoosh

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