With a new administration officially in office for 100 days, Montgomery County commissioners held a special meeting to reflect their experience to date. The officers admitted they didn’t expect to inherit such a mess of county issues to tackle.
With a prior administration that was accused of lying to a grand jury, and one of the largest tax increases in the area, Chairman Josh Shapiro stated he couldn’t believe what he walked into, but is determined to fix it.
“Today, as we reflect on the first 100 days in office and look forward to the next 1,360,” he said. “I am stunned by the scope of the mess we inherited.”
A mess might be an understatement.
This year, the board has been forced to cut $6.4 million from the 2012 budget and borrow $25 million to pay expenses.
“We knew there were challenges but the problems are far worse than we collectively expected,” Shapiro said. “In some ways, it was like they [former commissioners] thought if they simple ignored the problems they would go away. Well, they didn’t and now it is our responsibility to address them, and we will.”
For Vice Chairman Leslie Richards, she is working hard with money — that isn’t available.
With roadways and building in need of repair, the county may have to borrow more money just to make simple fixes that should’ve been made in the prior administration.
“I knew there were infrastructural challenges,” Richards said. “I knew that the facade on this building needed some improvement to say the least. We were told that somewhere around $10 million and we seen that it will nee much more than that.”
One could suggest the current administration has made progress enhancing the culture across the county.
County officials have been spotted at numerous community events. A few weeks ago, they were seen serving water ice outside the courthouse.
“We made it a point to begin visiting each employee,” Shapiro said. “It wasn’t so much to simply shake their hands, but rather to listen to their ideas. We are changing the culture and we value their work.”
One person not foreign to the board is County Commissioner Bruce Castor.
Castor voiced his opinion many of times during the prior administration, and had an idea that the county would be in such a financial deficit when the new administration took over.
“I of course am not stunned,” he said. “You realize we are now operating under a budget that had a 17.5 percent tax increase, which I believe is the largest tax increase in a year that the county has seen.”
Members of the former board told the public finances were good in the county, but once they left, the money seemed to have left with them.
“They did not have an honest, true picture what the county finances were,” Castor said. “I was the lone voice in the wilderness saying it. Now there is no opponent here. There is no party. There are three people bailing it out. We are trying to do it with as much thinking, logic, and honesty as possible.”
The administration also started the budget process for next year — much ahead of time.
“We’ve already begun the budget process, nearly eight months earlier than when the 2012 budget process commenced,” Shapiro said.
The board appears to be working as a team — as each commissioner tells what concern they have during meetings.
“It helps if your commissioners are smart and energetic,” Castor said. “It helps if they are willing to come to work and work together. But the most overriding thing that it is necessary for a county commissioner is to be honest. The previous board of commissioners was not honest. They made decisions on non-good government reasons. The results of those decisions is what we are paying for now.”