Even though they have been in office for more than eight months, Montgomery County officials are still trying to fix some of the mess from the prior administration.
One of those issues is the open space program.
After a grand jury report cited serious issues with the program — as there were never any signed contracts when money was distributed, which meant some taxpayers’ money may have been spent and not recorded.
With evidence the former chairman did hold favoritism when making decisions with some of the taxpayer’s dollars, the current administration made huge strides to clean up the mess by extensively looking into the open space budget and passing one last week.
“In the past commissioners would pass a resolution and a then a check was cut,” said chairman Josh Shapiro.
The $17.16 million Open Space Capital Budget would run through the next five years. The board also withdrew four grants, which totaled $1.1 million that the previous administration had budgeted.
“We asked our staff to review all the different outstanding projects,” said Shapiro. “They thought it was a priority to fund something. What we were trying to do was to say ‘are the necessary controls in place, can they administer standards that we think are important to minister.’”
The budget will include $11.03 million in county funds.
“I think $17.1 million over the next five years is phenomenal in the economy where we are,” said vice chairman Leslie Richards.
Despite the large amount dedicated to the program, it should reap benefits for the county.
“We’ve made a decision to invest in our own trails that the county owns that are much needed,” said Richards “You can see with investments over the next five years, we are hoping to make $1.6 million dollars in our own county parks as well as $3.8 million in trail projects.”
The budget includes approximately $1.65 million for county park improvements, and another $3.8 million for county trail development.
It is also clear that the county is looking to invest on what they own investments to gain funding. The board has been doing so with its infrastructure as they have allocated money to fix county buildings.
“This is a major shift in priority from the last administration,” said commissioner Bruce Castor who was part of the former administration, but was always known was the odd man out. “I do think this is the right thing to do.”
The chairman couldn’t agree more with his colleague.
“He [Castor] stole my thunder a bit,” said Shapiro. “This really is a shift in priorities. We remain committed in investing in open space, in county parks, and county trail systems. That is happening because of the commitment of all three commissioners.”