County com­mis­sion­ers make stop atar­ca­dia

The Willow Grove Guide - - FRONT PAGE - By Jar­reau Free­man

jfree­man@mont­ It’s not ev­ery day that res­i­dents can have a face-to-face con­ver­sa­tion with their county com­mis­sion­ers, but the new ad­min­is­tra­tion seems to want to change that.

Dur­ing a ca­sual con­ver­sa­tion in the Ar­ca­dia Univer­sity cas­tle in Glen­side, lo­cals gath­ered to re­ceive a county up­date and pose ques­tions to Mont­gomery Board of Com­mis­sion­ers Chair­man Josh Shapiro and sice Chair­woman Les­lie Richards Feb. 4.

The meet­ing was the third in a se­ries of con­ver­sa­tions the com­mis­sion­ers will host with con­stituents through­out the county to in­form them of what they can ex­pect from the county this year. Pre­vi­ous meet­ings took place in Lans­dale and Ard­more.

Although Com­mis­sioner Bruce Cas­tor Jr., the third mem­ber of the board, was ab­sent due to a prior com­mit­ment, Shapiro and Richards pro­ceeded to out­line some of the main is­sues the board has tack­led since it came WR RIILFH 13 PRnWKV DJR.

One of the ma­jor prob­lems the board faced was balancing a $420 mil­lion bud­get with a struc­tural bud­get deficit of $49.3 PLOOLRn, 6KDSLUR VDLG.

To con­struct a bud­get for 2013, 6KDSLUR VDLG WKHy uVHG D zero-based bud­get ap­proach.

“You have to have an ap­proach that asks the fun­da­men­tal ques­tions of what, how and why,” he said. “We asked de­part­ment lead­ers to meet with us with a blank sheet of pa­per and say what the core mis­sions of their de­part­ment would be. Upon defin­ing that core mis­sion … we were able to back our way into a fig­ure that prop­erly funded the core mis­sion of county government.”

The bud­get was balanced with­out rais­ing taxes, is­su­ing any mass lay­offs or pro­grams cuts, he said.

With the bud­get se­cured, ShaSLUR VDLG WKDW 2013 wLOO DOVR bH the year the county “rev­o­lu­tion­izes the way they do hu­man ser­vices.” In weeks to come, the county will jump-start a com­mu­nity con­nec­tions pro­gram that will dis­trib­ute advo- cates through­out the re­gion for res­i­dents to talk with and learn about the op­por­tu­ni­ties that can ben­e­fit their fam­i­lies, he said.

“They will be your nav­i­ga­tor through the sys­tem and your ad­vo­cate in the sys­tem,” he said. “You won’t have to be bounced around to 10 dif­fer­ent peo­ple in or­der to get the help you need.”

In ad­di­tion to im­plant­ing help­ful ser­vices from Norristown di­rectly into com­mu­ni­ties, the county com­mis­sion­ers are work­ing to keep peo­ple safe. The com­mis­sion­ers re­cently ap­proved an up­grade to the county emer­gency ra­dio sys­tem. The up­grade was ini­tially es­ti­mated to cost $120 mil­lion but the fi­nal cost was re­duced to $29.9 mil­lion.

“We saved the tax­pay­ers a bun­dle and gave our f i r st re­spon­ders the best pos­si­ble de­vices t hey can use to com­mu­ni­cate,” he said.

With more than 120 bridges and miles of road­ways in the county need­ing re­pair, Shapiro said that in­vest­ing in in­fras­trucWuUH wLOO bH FULWLFDO Ln 2013.

“Many of our pub­lic prop­erty, roads, bridges and parks were not main­tained prop­erly,” Richards said. “As many of you know, it’s not sexy to main­tain things that you have. It’s usu­ally sex­ier to buy new things. We have to take care of what we have and that’s really what we are go­ing to do.”

The county is reach­ing out to lo­cal mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties, and where it makes sense, will re­pair struc­tures and re­lin­quish own­er­ship to lo­cal mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties.

“They will take own­er­ship of a brand new piece of in­fra­struc­ture,” she said. “If the mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties do the main­te­nance as it should be done … the bridges and roads will be in great shape for years to come.”

In ad­di­tion, Richards out­lined how the county will help with eco­nomic devel­op­ment like sup­port­ing lo­cal busi­nesses, pro­vid­ing job train­ing and as­sist­ing those who are un­em­ployed or un­der­em­ployed.

The county is also col­lab­o­rat­ing with mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties and wa­ter­shed groups re­gard­ing flood is­sues and is work­ing to im­prove the county trans­porta­tion sys­tem through grants, she said.

The county will also con­tinue to take ini­tia­tive re­gard­ing the soter ID law and will work to en­sure ev­ery reg­is­tered voter in the county gets to vote, she said.

Fol­low­ing Shapiro and RichDUGV’ 2013 RuWOLnH, UHVLGHnWV posed ques­tions about is­sues con­cern­ing their com­mu­ni­ties.

Sev­eral res­i­dents raised ques­tions about lo­cal flood­ing.

Abing­ton res­i­dent Lora Lehmann asked the com­mis­sion­ers to con­sider how lost green space is linked to flood­ing.

“Our ad­min­is­tra­tion is work­ing hard to pre­serve and pro­tect open space,” Shapiro said. “But if you pre­serve open space, it’s not as though you au­to­mat­i­cally solve your flood­ing is­sues. You have to deal with them on par­al­lel tracks. At the same time, we are bring­ing mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties to­gether to [work on] storm water [is­sues].”

Oth­ers, like Chel­tenham res­i­dent Charles Pat­ter­son, raised con­cerns about the Green­wood Av­enue bridge con­struc­tion and wanted to know what the county was do­ing to ex­pe­dite the project.

“What we can do best is ad­vo­cate on be­half of mu­nic­i­palit i es to Pen­nDOT, be­cause i t ’s a Pen­nDOT project,” said Richards. “It’s not a county bridge so we don’t have con­trol over this project. But we will be able to give you reg­u­lar up­dates. We do re­al­ize the im­pact that it has on res­i­dences and busi­nesses. Any­thing we can do to re­lieve those im­pacts and help out, we want to do.”

Some, like lo­cal Tom Collins, wanted to know if the county sees sup­port­ing Mont­gomery County Com­mu­nity Col­lege as a pri­or­ity even though it ex­peULHnFHG D 25 SHUFHnW FuW Ln WKH county bud­get.

“As a re­sult of the cut we were forced to make, as a re­sult of the fis­cal mess we in­her­ited, tuition went up $6 per credit hour, per stu­dent,” Shapiro said. “Go­ing for­ward we re­main com­mit­ted to meet­ing our obli­ga­tions to the com­mu­nity col­lege. The col­lege is an ex­tra­or­di­nary as­set to the com­mu­nity and we want to make sure stu­dents have ac­cess to it.”

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