Burb Media’s three local news sites (MoreThanTheCurve.com, AroundAmbler.com, and GlensideLocal.com) partnered with NorthPennNow.com to ask questions of all of the candidates running for Montgomery County Commissioner in both the Democratic and Republican primaries. The answers are presented unedited and without comment. We are publishing them as we receive them.
Kimberly Koch is one of five candidates running in the Democratic Party primary for Montgomery County Commissioner. The primary election is being held on May 16th. Democratic Party voters will cast two votes in the county commissioner race.
Koch is a current member of the Whitpain Township Board of Supervisors.
SEPTA recently canceled its plan to extend rail to King of Prussia. It also has paused plans to improve parking at three train stations in the county (Philmont, Gwynedd Valley, and Noble stations) and recently considered, but dropped, a plan to remove a direct bus line between Plymouth Meeting and the city. How do you feel SEPTA can best serve Montgomery County?
Montgomery County can better partner with SEPTA to serve all who use public transportation. While the King of Prussia rail line was canceled, we should still look for other funding opportunities (federal and state) to modernize, streamline, and upgrade aging facilities. SEPTA has been – and will remain – an important part of our transportation puzzle. Yes, the King of Prussia rail line is off, but that does not mean we stop working to make it more efficient and better run.
Pandemic’s Impact on Commercial Real Estate
The aftermath of the pandemic has resulted in many more people working from home, which is forecasted to negatively impact the commercial real estate market in the coming years. What do you feel the county can do to encourage businesses to relocate to Montgomery County?
It is simple to answer that we can and should work to offer tax incentives to businesses who invest in people and equipment here in Montgomery County. The fact is that state and county governments regularly offer companies financial incentives (rebates, grants, and tax credits) to urge them to relocate or expand operations. The key for us will be maximizing our incentives. My belief is that counties that offer the most effective business attraction solutions do so by developing a comprehensive economic-development strategy, which reflects specific, measurable goals to boost sustained employment by businesses following when (and where) we invest county resources.
For example, one option could be to offer a job-creation incentive as an annual cash rebate of up to a certain percent of payroll, and then add a discount for hiring workers who live in Montgomery County and even more for those who are veterans or for those who serve as fire fighters or first responders.
Finally, we can evaluate if non-financial incentives will assist in recruiting businesses to Montgomery County: do we have the right amount of public transportation (if not, where can we make appropriate upgrades), can we offer assistance to permit new workers to attend local colleges (such as Montgomery County Community College) and to provide new degree programs matching their skills.
To follow-up on that question, if the occupancy rates drop, what do you think the county can do to encourage municipalities to allow for additional uses or conversion of office buildings?
Montgomery County can do what we are starting to do in Whitpain Township. With commercial occupancy rates dropping, we are evaluating our comprehensive plan to determine if there is a way to partner with property owners to convert office space into quality apartment homes. We can offer incentives to developers to provide housing opportunities for teachers, police officers, firefighters, carpenters, and electricians (to name just a few professions). Montgomery County needs to be a place where members of our community can both live and work.
Montgomery County transitioned to a pre-trial services system in recent years, which has led some residents to question why MDJs [magesterial district judges] no longer set bail in their communities and instead have been moved to a countywide on-call rotation. Do you believe MDJs [magesterial district judges] should set bail in the communities they’re elected to serve? What are the advantages to the county-wide system?
I certainly support our local MDJ’s [magesterial district judges] and their role in our criminal justice system. But our policy should not unfairly punish those without the financial resources to pay bail, particularly those individuals who are facing non-violent charges and who are judged to not be a flight risk.
Bail Reform – Follow-up
As a follow-up, in light of recent incidents involving defendants accused of violent crimes being bailed out only to re-offend while awaiting proceedings, do you believe the pre-trial services unit needs to be adjusted? Or do you believe these incidents are outliers?
Again, bail should not be an impossibility for someone purely because of their financial circumstances. To be sure, there is a significant difference between violent offenders and those facing non-violent charges. I support the county providing guidance to the local MDJ’s [magesterial district judges].
If you win the election, what policy or reform will you want to be remembered for after you have served?
I will pick two:
- Elections. Montgomery County’s elections are free and fair. I will work to keep it that way and let me assure everyone that the liars, criers, and election deniers will have to go through me.
- Housing. Montgomery County needs to be a place where everyone who works in Montgomery County can afford to live in Montgomery County.
The county owns the property in Conshohocken (Plymouth Township) that is home to Covanta’s trash-to-energy plant. According to Energy Justice, the plant is the largest source of air pollution in the county. It has also in recent years experienced a series of malfunctions that have led to neighbor complaints about odors. What can the county do as the landlord of the property to improve the environmental and neighborhood impact?
Montgomery County can and should partner with the Plymouth Council to look at options for some oversight and a comprehensive quality review of Covanta’s operations. Covanta’s facility has operated for decades and if the trash to energy technology works, that’s great. But over the years we have seen various well publicized problems that local neighbors deserve to have addressed and monitored by the county.
What are three things the county can do to encourage developers to consider including affordable housing within their projects?
As noted above, in Whitpain we are actively working with developers on what I refer to as “workforce housing” – to ensure that professionals (such as teachers, cops, firefighters, administrative professionals as well as electricians, carpenters, plumbers and many other skilled professionals) can live near where they work. Montgomery County can similarly work (on a much larger scale) and incentivize developers to make it financially attractive to convert unused commercial space into apartment homes that fit within our local communities. Possible incentives can include tax rebates, green space credits, impervious surface requirements, and parking. And if we permit appropriate workforce housing, at the same time we hold the developers accountable for traffic impacts, school increases, and other needed infrastructure improvements.
Homelessness in Montco
In the past two years, homelessness has grown in the county, while shelter space and availability have decreased. As a commissioner, what would you advocate the county to do to alleviate this problem?
There are no magic solutions, but ending homelessness in Montgomery County will require a sustained effort to: (a) increase the number of affordable units, (b) paying workers wages that cover the actual cost of living in Montgomery County; and (c) ensuring supportive services are available for those in need. Supportive services include daycare (particularly for young children), transportation (so parents can get to work), and needed health care (including mental health care) services.
On an immediate basis, Montgomery County needs to ensure we have emergency shelters and other types of what are referred to as “bridge” housing options to assist those in need. The county can and will work with local agencies, churches, and volunteer groups to keep members of our community off the streets and provide them with a path to stability. Finally, as a part of assisting with stability – the county should ensure that programs and services assisting the homeless provide what I refer to trauma training as it is likely that some type of trauma preceded the loss of housing.
What are the most over and underused words in politics?
Most overused word in politics: Trump.
Most underused word in politics: Leadership.
The county commissioners passed a 8% property tax increase in 2022. What is one idea you have on how the county can save or reduce the amount of money it spends?
There are any number of ways to control spending, but one concrete step would be to improve our purchasing practices – this includes everything from supplies, materials, expenses, health care, and public works. Montgomery County can and should better leverage the size of our contracts/purchases to seek deeper discounts and cost controls for everything we do. Indeed, in Whitpain we committed to review all of our professional service providers at least once every five years to ensure the Township is getting value. Montgomery County can do it on a much larger scale.