Why did a deal to privatize the County-owned geriatric center include 220 acres of open space, if, in fact, as Josh Shapiro stated, this sale was only about returning the county to the “core functions of government?”
Why include the open space at all?
Since the sale of Parkhouse "pervade(d) every aspect" of the 2014 Montgomery County budget, it's worth taking a look at the single biggest budget issue that Montgomery County faces: Logan Square Shopping Center, aka "Studio Centre," aka "Norristown Centre," aka Giant Economic Development Boondoggle.
Back in June of 2013, Natalie Kostelini penned an article for the Philadelphia Business Journal chronicling the tragic history of the Norristown Studio Centre, the too-good-to-be-true project that was going to single-handedly undo years of mismanagement and economic decline in Norristown. Like the quick fix that project promised, the County Commissioners were looking for a similar quick fix to fill the $24.5 budget hole that the project created. Kostelni's article (linked here) is worth reading in its entirety, but for a sense of scale as to how dire the County's fiscal crisis is as a direct result of this project, this passage is worth quoting at length:
“We will follow whatever options and legal remedies that we have,” said Uri Z. Monson, chief financial officer for Montgomery County.
Against the backdrop of the subsequent $100 million Lafayette Corridor project and the half a billion dollar Courthouse renovation project that the county has invested in since 2014, $24.5 million in debt doesn’t seem like a whole lot. But Shapiro and Richards ran on a “no tax pledge” and Josh had made big promises about fixing Montco’s finances with “zero-based budgeting.’
How he really fixed Montco’s fiscal woes was with a fire sale of Montco’s real estate assets, the jewel of which was the 220 acres of pristine open space in Montgomery County.
Interestingly, After Josh Shapiro coasted to re-election as County Commissioner in 2015, this time with running mate Val Arkoosh, he waited a whole seven days after being sworn in in January 2016 to announce his run for Pennsylvania Attorney General. Despite never having prosecuted a case in his entire career, Shapiro won the AG spot in the November 8, 2016 election and was shaking the dust of Montgomery County from his shoes. But before he left, on November 17, 2016, Shapiro, along with fellow commissioners Val Arkoosh and Joe Gale announced budget hearings for the 2017 budget which included an 11% increase. That increase was approved in December.
The first rule of unpopular political policy is that it’s are ok as long as the election is over. Voters have short memories and politicians count on that.
The failed Logan Square Studio Center project was the catalyst for the unprecedented sale of Open Space in Montgomery County. Find out how disingenuous politicians used this pristine parcel of farmland to advance their political careers back then, and how the current batch disingenuous politicians is attempting to use it to this day.