Consolidating county departments, improving technology and adopting corporate-style management structure were among the recommendations made Wednesday by a panel charged with developing tactics to reshape Montgomery County government.
The proposals largely focus on paring down the size of government and making county departments more transparent and accessible to constituents.
They come as Montgomery County continues to struggle with a tight financial forecast and five months after a county grand jury condemned the county’s previous administration for wasteful spending and ineffective management.
“This document is going to help us move forward,” said Democratic Commissioners’ Chairman Josh Shapiro, who appointed the 50-member transition team shortly after his election last year. “We didn’t just take ideas from Democrats, we took them from Republicans. We didn’t just take ideas from labor, we took them from business. This was an open and transparent process.”
The panel analyzed government operations in five sub-areas including economic development, public safety, county administration, planning and environment and human services. Their recommendations include:
* Combining departments such as public property, transportation, parks and infrastructure – branches of the local government that share many functions and duplicate effort
* Streamlining the chain of command among senior staff to ensure communication between all county departments.
*Developing a plan to ensure legally required payments to government employee pension plans are made on time.
“We recognize you can’t do all of this at one time,” said Robb D. Fox, a partner at the Manko, Gold, Katcher and Fox law firm, who helmed the panel as he delivered its report to commissioners Wednesday. “Some of these things may never be implemented. But we hope it provides a roadmap.”
Fox said Wednesday that not all recommendations included in the report were meant as criticism of the way things were done in the past.
For example, suggestions that county redevelopment authority members have expertise in redevelopment issues and recuse themselves from voting on projects which they held a financial stake do not necessarily mean current board members weren’t following those guidelines, he said.
Other included items, seemed to carry veiled suggestions. The report notes that the $14.4 million budget of the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office is nearly twice that of Bucks County’s, despite having a similar population and fewer annual arrests than its neighbor.
But Fox said that the comparison should not be read as a recommendation to slash the Montgomery County office’s budget.
Since taking office in January, Shapiro and fellow commissioners Democrat Leslie Richards and Republican Bruce L. Castor Jr. have grappled to close a nearly $10 million budget shortfall, while also responding to the heavily critical grand jury on the administration of former Chairman James R. Matthews.
Grand jurors characterized the Matthews government as one marked by wasteful spending, secrecy and questionable processes for awarding contracts.
“There’s been a lot of stuff written about Montgomery County -- a lot of it very negative,” Fox said Wednesday. “But I am very bullish that with our new leadership we are going to make the county the premiere county in the Commonwealth.”