Big turnout as budget cuts discussed in Montco

NORRISTOWN, Pa. - December 7, 2011

The county's money trouble is happening at the same time as the arrest of one of the county commissioners.

Hundreds of concerned citizens packed Courtroom A and dozens more filled and overflow room in the county building across the street on Wednesday. All of them wanted a chance to speak out against the cuts proposed for Montgomery County's 2012 budget.

Despite the big turnout, one person was absent: Republican Jim Matthews. Until his arrest yesterday for lying to a Grand Jury, Matthews had been the chair of the three-man county commission.

After the arrest, he said he would resign as chairman, but continue to serve out his term, which ends next month.

Democrat Joe Hoeffel is the new chairman.

"I spoke with him three times yesterday and, on the third call, which was about 10 p.m., he indicated he would not come in today," said Hoeffel said.

While Matthews sorts out his political future, the commissioners still need to pass a 2012 budget.

The 60 or so residents who commented Wednesday made it clear that they don't like the current proposal.

It doesn't raise taxes, but it would close the parks and heritage sites department, eliminate the planning commission and reduce allocations to the Montgomery County Community College, Elmwood Park Zoo and the county library system, in addition to cutting some 500 county jobs.

Hoeffel says he'd like to see a compromise that would include less severe cuts offset by a 14% tax increase. That comes out to about $66 per homeowner.

Republican Bruce Castor, who will remain on the board with incoming Democrats Leslie Richards and Josh Shapiro, isn't yet ready to commit to increasing taxes.

"That is the dilemma. Do we listen to what the voters said at the polls? Or do we assume that they were uninformed and made an incorrect decision at the polls and overturn what we think they meant when they voted?" said Montgomery County Commissioner Bruce Castor.

Whether it's two commissioners or three in the decision, a final vote in the Montgomery County budget vote is set December 21st.

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