Com­mis­sion­ers ap­prove 2019 bud­get, new vot­ing sys­tem

The Boyertown Area Times - - LOCAL NEWS - By Mar­ian Den­nis mden­[email protected]­tu­ry­media.com @Mar­i­anDen­nis1 on Twit­ter

Dis­cus­sion over the pro­posed 2019 bud­get took up much of the Mont­gomery County Com­mis­sion­ers’ last sched­uled meet­ing of the year.

Mont­gomery County Com­mis­sion­ers’ Chair­woman Valerie Arkoosh and Vice Chair­man Ken Lawrence, both Democrats, voted yes to adopt the 2019 county bud­get on Thurs­day over the ob­jec­tion of Repub­li­can Com­mis­sioner Joe Gale.

The bud­get rec­om­mends no real es­tate tax mill­age in­crease, keep­ing the rate at 3.849 — 3.459 for gen­eral op­er­at­ing and .390 in ded­i­cated Mont­gomery County Com­mu­nity Col­lege fund­ing — for the sec­ond con­sec­u­tive year, ac­cord­ing to Mont­gomery County Chief Fi­nan­cial Of­fi­cer Dean Dor­tone.

Ad­di­tion­ally, the bal­anced bud­get projects $420.2 mil­lion in rev­enue and $420.1 mil­lion in ex­penses with an $86.5 mil­lion, or 20.6 per­cent fund bal­ance.

A point of con­tention in the bud­get was specif­i­cally the multi-year-county cam­pus plan.

“We are very pleased to pro­pose a bud­get to the res­i­dents of Mont­gomery County that does not in­clude a tax in­crease for the sec­ond year in a row. This bud­get in­vests in the core func­tions of county gov­ern­ment by the ded­i­cated fund­ing source to the Mont­gomery County Com­mu­nity Col­lege,” said Arkoosh. “This bud­get also con­tains the im­ple­men­ta­tion of our mul­ti­year county cam­pus plan, our plan to de­sign and build the county cam­pus that will serve this com­mu­nity for the next 100 years.”

Arkoosh also stated that county build­ings are in “des­per­ate need of re­pair” and needed such up­dates as se­cu­rity up­grades and fa­cil­ity mod­ern­iza­tion. Arkoosh also ar­gued that th­ese im­prove­ments would “serve as a cat­a­lyst for new de­vel­op­ment in Nor­ris­town.”

Arkoosh said that “the com­pa­ra­ble con­struc­tion-only costs for the en­tire county cam­pus project to­day, in­clud­ing the new jus­tice cen­ter, at nearly twice the orig­i­nally es­ti­mated size, stands at $371 mil­lion com­pared to $281 mil­lion in 2015.”

“What Com­mis­sioner Gale fails to tell you in his com­ments about the county cam­pus plan is that he ap­proved the de­sign to in­crease the size of the county jus­tice cen­ter from the 150,00 square feet es­ti­mated needed in 2015 to to­day’s re­searched and data-driven es­ti­mate of 319,000 square feet. It is in­com­pre­hen­si­ble that he ex­pects to dou­ble the size of a new jus­tice cen­ter without in­creas­ing costs at all,” said Arkoosh. “To vote no on any of th­ese bud­gets is to deny our tax­pay­ers the ser­vices and in­fra­struc­ture to make Mont­gomery County the best it can be to­day and for the next 100 years.”

Gale re­sponded, not­ing that he had “laid out very clear, straight­for­ward ul­ti­ma­tums for his col­leagues.”

“One was I thought that the $406 mil­lion, 5-year cap­i­tal plan re­lated to the county cam­pus plan was far too costly and two, be­cause it was too costly, I wanted a guar­an­teed com­mit­ment from my col­leagues that a project la­bor agree­ment would not be im­ple­mented go­ing for­ward be­cause it is proven that a project la­bor agree­ment will only in­crease costs by 20 per­cent, ap­prox­i­mately,” said Gale. “None of those have been granted and I am very con­fi­dent that the vast ma­jor­ity of res­i­dents and tax­pay­ers in Mont­gomery County will agree with me that a $406 mil­lion cam­pus ren­o­va­tion project is ridicu­lous.”

Gale added, “I am more than will­ing to work with you and if the en­gi­neer­ing, ar­chi­tec­ture and de­sign firm says, ‘we can’t build a jus­tice cen­ter for less than $364 mil­lion,’ can­cel the con­tract and find an­other one. That’s out­ra­geous. I am very con­fi­dent that the vast ma­jor­ity of res­i­dents and tax­pay­ers of this county will ap­pre­ci­ate my no vote. I will proudly cast a no vote.”

The meet­ing ad­di­tion­ally cov­ered the ap­proval of 15 res­o­lu­tions and 38 awards of con­tract. Among the awards of con­tract was a con­tract with Do­min­ion Vot­ing for $5,823,143 for a new vot­ing sys­tem.

“I’m re­ally ex­cited about this vote to­day,” said Arkoosh. “To­day’s ac­tion will al­low the county to move for­ward with pur­chas­ing a new voter marked pa­per bal­lot sys­tem. This will ac­com­mo­date our 425 polling lo­ca­tions and nearly 600,000 reg­is­tered vot­ers. Our goal is to have the new sys­tem in place by the May 21, 2019 pri­mary.”

The cur­rent vot­ing sys­tem was pur­chased in 1996 and is in need of up­dates. The cur­rent vot­ing sys­tem did not in­clude a voter pa­per trail, which is now man­dated by the Com­mon­wealth.

“The new sys­tem’s re­liance on a sim­ple pa­per bal­lot will de­liver the high­est de­gree of con­fi­dence in our elec­tion process. At a voter’s precinct, a voter will mark their vote se­lec­tion on a pa­per bal­lot or on an ADA ac­ces­si­ble touch screen, which will then print the voter’s bal­lot se­lec­tions,” ex­plained Arkoosh. They will then re­view their se­lec­tions on a marked pa­per bal­lot then cast their bal­lot pri­vately and anony­mously by cast­ing the bal­lot into a scan­ner that will be lo­cated at the voter’s precinct. This process en­sures that when polls close at 8 p.m., we will be able to quickly tab­u­late the votes and pro­vide ac­cu­rate elec­tion re­sults in a timely man­ner.”

Lawrence added that all cur­rent and fu­ture poll work­ers will have the op­por­tu­nity to train with the new sys­tem. The pub­lic will have have the chance to try out the new sys­tem be­fore the May 2019 pri­mary.

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