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County Approves Plan For $146.5M In Capital Repairs

Plan includes funding for critical repairs to county roads, bridges, Norristown office tower

The Montgomery County Board of Commissioners Thursday approved a $146.5 million capital spending plan that includes repairs to at least 18 bridges and roads around the county as well as extensive repairs to the 1 Montgomery Plaza office tower that now houses the bulk of county's government.

View the county's full summary of the $146.5 million spending package in the PDF section attached to this article.

The county purchased the building for $26 million in 2006 and is now facing $35 million in repairs, prompting Commissioner Bruce Castor to wonder whether the county might pursue compensation from any parties that were charged with inspecting the building for the county prior to its purchase.

"Somebody decided to buy this building without making sure it was sound," Castor said.

The county courthouse garage, which has suffered what county CFO Uri Monson called “severe water damage,” is slated to receive about $17.6 million in repairs and upgrades. Several other county buildings, such as the Parkhouse long-term care facility in Upper Providence, are also in line to receive various repairs and upgrades that range from new kitchen appliances to replacement security cameras and sidewalk improvements. Monson presented the commissioners with a slide show that depicted the damage to both the office tower and the garage.

Castor and fellow commissioners Josh Shapiro and Leslie Richards each took turns criticizing the previous county administration for not making sufficient efforts to combat the county’s crumbling facilities and infrastructure. Castor, in particular, characterized the county’s infrastructure woes as the inevitable result of the “cronyism” practiced by former commissioners Joseph Hoeffel and James Matthews. Castor said the previous county administration directed county funds towards projects that would reap political benefits, at the expense of less visible but more crucial needs.

“Fixing the courthouse garage” doesn’t have political benefits, Castor said.

Richards said the problems shown in Monson’s slide presentation reflected maintenance issues that predated the previous county administration. Shapiro thanked Richards, who is a project manager at an engineering firm, for guiding the county’s efforts to assess the scale of its infrastructure woes.

The $146.5 million in county spending does not include $94.6 million in state and federal grant money that will go towards the road and bridge projects. Those projects are expected to cost about $110.1 million, only $15.6 million of which will be directly borne by the county.

Richards said 36 of the county’s bridges are “posted,” meaning they are no longer able to bear the loads for which they were originally designed. Seven bridges are closed, and 62 have been designated “structurally deficient.”

“I think [this project plan] is very necessary,” Richards said.

See the interactive map at the top of this article to see where the projects are located and what they are each expected to cost. 

The capital project plan runs through 2016 and does not include an estimated $50 million upgrade to the county’s public safety radio system. With the county currently servicing approximately $400 million in debt that consumes 10 percent of the county budget, it is not yet clear how or when the county will take on additional debt to pay for the projects.

Shapiro declined to say whether the new projects or any additional debt that may be required to pay for them would result in a tax hike for county residents.

“It’s too soon to say,” Shapiro said. He noted that Monson estimated that the county’s debt would be at about $392 million at the end of the year, down from $418 million at the beginning of the year.

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