Audit: Revenue exceeds expectations
A progress report on the Pennsylvania Turnpike corridor reinvestment project and the unveiling of the Montgomery County 2016 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report were at the top of the agenda at the county commissioners’ Thursday meeting.
Montgomery County Planning Commission Executive Director Jody Holton and Section Chief Matt Edmond presented the commissioners with an update on the turnpike reinvestment plan, which was produced in partnership with the Turnpike Commission, PennDOT, the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission and eight municipalities along the turnpike corridor.
The goal of the plan, Holton said, is to reinvigorate business complexes through improved access along the turnpike between the Valley Forge and Willow Grove interchanges.
The plan focuses on the construction of new interchanges to balance congestion and the rezoning of office campuses along the corridor to spur economic development.
Since unveiling the plan in 2015, the planning commission has secured a commitment of $66 million from the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission to be disbursed between 2017 and 2024 for design and construction of a new Lafayette Street interchange in Norristown as the capstone of the Lafayette Street Extension Street Project.
The state has also awarded more than $2 million to Upper Dublin Township to build a slip ramp at the Fort Washington interchange, and 1,254 acres of office park real estate has been rezoned for mixed use, which will allow for higher density, and transform those spaces into “live, work (and) play communities,” Holton said.
Both Holton and Edmond pointed toward the Upper Merion area of the corridor for examples of successful planning and rezoning efforts and ongoing transportation development.
On the development side, Holton touted the township’s rezoning of the King of Prussia business district, which paved the way for the completion of the first phase of a linear business park along First Avenue and the popular Village at Valley Forge, with additional projects to come.
Edmond highlighted the widening of Route 422 at the Schuylkill River Bridge and the proposed extension of the Norristown HighSpeed Line into King of Prussia which is winding its way through the planning process.
Other projects noted in the presentation included the Ridge Pike Improvement Project fromthe turnpike to Chemical Road, which is currently in the design phase; increased development around the Ridge Pike interchange in Plymouth Meeting; and the $35 million Life Time Athletic health club built next to a planned zip ramp interchange in Fort Washington.
Following the presentation, Montgomery County Chief Financial Officer Dean Dortone presented an update on the results of the county’s 2016 financial audit.
Dortone reported auditor’s results show that the county exceeded its $389.7 million total 2016 budgeted revenue and collected $402.1 million last year, with the largest increase coming from federal and state grant revenue, due in part to provisional grant funds received during the 2016 budget impasse.
More than half the revenue (50.4 percent) was generated from real estate taxes, while grants (36 percent), departmental earnings (11.5 percent) and other revenue made up the remainder.
County expenditures stood at $385.8 million, which is better than the $389.7 million expected.
A savings of $1.4 million was achieved through the refinancing of outstanding debt, but was offset by a $1.6 million increase in overtime, largely accrued by employees at county correctional facilities.
Dortone told the commissioners that one point of possible improvement would be the county’s fund balance, which stands at 14 percent of general fund revenues; considerably lower than the average 26.5 percent average of several neighboring counties he cited.
An improvement in the fund balance could contribute to boosting the county’s current AA1 credit rating to AAA, but the overall state of the county finances is good, Dortone said.
In other business Thursday, David Zellers was selected as the county’s new commerce director.
Commissioner Val Arkoosh said Zellers “has a really unique set of skills that I think will be extremely helpful to us.”
Zellers was formerly employed by the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development and the Northwest Pennsylvania Planning and Development Commission, where he authored a comprehensive report on economic and workforce development strategies.
“(Zellers is) very enthusiastic to help the county continue its strong economic growth,” Arkoosh said.