The two Democrats and two Republicans competing for three seats on the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners faced off Thursday on the WNPV talk program Comment Please by Univest.
State Representative Josh Shapiro is on the Democratic ticket along with Whitemarsh Township Supervisor Leslie Richards. He said there is no need to raise taxes, but there is a real need for reform, and the centerpiece of their plan is Zero-Based Budgeting.
“The problem with county government is that over the years it’s like they have wallpaper on the walls, and instead of stripping it off and starting fresh they just keep putting more wallpaper on top of more wallpaper on top of more. We need to start fresh. Zero-Based Budgeting allows us to do that. It says to every expenditure, every program, ‘Let’s begin at zero. Let’s ask the tough questions that need to be asked about whether or not a program works and whether it ought to be funded,’ and at the same time do aggressive auditing and aggressive efficiency reviews to make sure that we’re not wasting funds.”
Shapiro said there are many ways to make county government more efficient. Incumbent Commissioner Bruce Castor is on the Republican ticket along with Lower Merion Township Commissioner Jenny Brown. He said Zero-Based Budgeting is just a slogan, and the county needs more than that to close its $42 million budget gap.
“The cause of this disastrous condition is multifold, but the primary one is this borrow, borrow, borrow, which then has changed the county operating budget so the largest line item is debt service, which has gone up astronomically, so we’re talking about a very severe situation. Now, I like to say Rome didn’t burn down in a day, and it’s going to take more than a day to straighten it out, and it’s going to take more than slogans. It’s going to take a good, hard look at programs the county doesn’t need.”
Castor said the first thing he will do if elected is get rid of all the programs he voted against over the last four years. Brown said she has never advocated or voted for higher taxes. “I worked for six years in Lower Merion. I have always found ways to reduce spending, and I have never supported a tax increase, and I spent about 30 hours a week, especially during budget time, finding ways to reduce the spending, so I think we should look at actions and understand that people who addressed situations with taxes and increased spending and increased debt are most likely to address problems in their next office in the same manner.”
Brown said their Democratic opponents have both voted for tax increases in their current jobs, but Richards said their pledge not to raise taxes is firm, and she has a proven record of giving residents what they want without raising taxes.
“In Whitemarsh Township we have never raised property taxes for our residents while preserving open space, while funding and constructing millions of dollars in stormwater improvement projects, while expanding our libraries. We’ve been able to look to creative and innovative funding solutions, public-private partnerships, which the commissioners are going to have to do in the next four years.” Richards said she’s a project manager at a civil engineering firm, and she believes the county can save a lot of money on managing the hundreds of contracts it puts out every year.