Due to a communication re-banding mandate by the Federal Trade Commission, Montgomery County commissioners are currently deciding what needs to be done in order to comply with the new federal regulations.
One proposal being considered is a $48 million upgrade of the county's public safety radio system, though Commissioner Bruce Castor believes that expense is not necessary to bring the system into compliance.
"We can put our radio system into compliance with the new federal guidelines at no cost to the county, then revisit the issue of upgrading the entire system when county finances improve," said Castor, a Republican, in a press release issued last week by his campaign.
According to the Castor-Brown campaign, a full upgrade is not required by the mandate and with the county already mired in debt, it doesn’t make sense to borrow more money to fund such an upgrade now.
"The police and the taxpayers both deserve the best, but the current administration's agenda of wasteful spending and borrowing has pushed the county's debt to record levels," said Jenny Brown, who's running for a county commissioner's seat in the upcoming November election.
Commissioner Chairman Jim Matthews has stated that he will not move for a vote until he is certain that the three-man panel can unanimously agree on taking on the added debt. In response, Castor is asking for a public referendum in order to gauge support for the equipment upgrade.
"It's outrageous to exclude taxpayers from voicing their opinions on the single most expensive project in county history," said Castor. "If the commissioners want to balloon the debt further, they should first seek the approval of the people."
Brown also said it's important to talk to the local departments to find out exactly what they need.
"These are difficult times with difficult budgets for all municipalities, and an expense of this size requires more time to plan for the impact," said Brown. "We need to listen to the police departments to determine exactly what they need, instead of simply borrowing more money for a project the county and its taxpayers cannot afford."
Shapiro-Richards: Public safety is top priority
Democratic commissioner candidates Josh Shapiro and Leslie Richards agreed that the commissioners should reach out and ask for input.
"We believe there has been insufficient communication between the county local police and local government officials to determine how this should be decided," said the Shapiro-Richards campaign in an statement emailed to Patch.
“Should this board fail to take action on this important issue, a Shapiro-Richards administration would initiate immediate meetings with local police and governmental officials before determining what should be done, who should pay for it, and how it should be paid for,” the email said.
The county commissioner hopefuls added that their primary concern is the safety of all county residents, and that money should not stand in the way.
"The most important consideration will always be the safety of our residents," said Shapiro-Richards. "No one should be put into peril because someone said the county couldn’t afford to protect its people."
Castor on Shapiro-Richards’ campaign office openings: “I hope their rent’s high”
Castor also expressed criticism of the Shapiro-Richards campaign’s announced strategy of setting up field offices throughout the county in an effort to connect with voters.
"We'll spend our contributors' money on a single office, and the rest on getting out our message," Castor said in an email to Patch.
"Clubhouses, T-shirts, stickers and balloons do not make a campaign. Voters are wise to the whole ‘hope and change’ thing. Without ideas, this is just fluff to give the appearance of substance where none exists. I hope their rent's high," Castor said.