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.
Liz Ferry is one of three candidates running in the Republican Party primary for Montgomery County Commissioner. The primary election is being held on May 16th. Republican voters will cast two votes in the county commissioner race.
Ferry currently serves as a commissioner in Upper Dublin Township.
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?
FERRY: Every day, tens of thousands of Montgomery County residents take SEPTA into Philadelphia for
employment as well as the reverse commute into the suburbs. During the pandemic, SEPTA’s regional
rail schedule was substantially reduced due to low ridership. Now that the pandemic is over, SEPTA
needs to add trips to its schedule to better serve the residents of Montgomery County. Its focus should
be on ensuring its trains and buses are in a state of good repair and the safety of its riders.
The proposed King of Prussia rail line was unaffordable and inconvenient for residents who would rather
drive than transfer to ride the train. Facing a $250 million operating budget shortfall next year, SEPTA is
in no financial position to build the line whose ridership was questionable. Instead, SEPTA should work
with municipalities to determine future growth and expand bus service. As an example, in Upper Dublin
Township, SEPTA has proposed to cancel a bus route from the Fort Washington Train Station into the
Office Park at a time when the Office Park is expanding its business and residential communities. SEPTA
should support bus routes that take residents and workers from train stations to office parks and main
streets, and maintain bus service to and from malls and Center City.
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?
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?
FERRY: Businesses locate in areas based on many factors, most importantly taxes, public safety,
infrastructure, and access to talent. Working to lower taxes and reduce county expenditures will attract and help retain companies. Areas with high property taxes don’t get a second look. Over the past three
years alone, Montgomery County Democrats have raised taxes by 21%. The county should work more
closely with its economic development partners and site selectors to promote the county throughout
the nation and world about the tremendous assets we have here such as our highly qualified and
educated workforce. Counties should also work with municipalities to ensure modern and efficient
roadways and bridges. As a township commissioner in Upper Dublin, I successfully championed a new
zip ramp into the Fort Washington Office Park for easy access and to reduce congestion on local streets.
Municipalities, residents, real estate professionals and developers are best equipped to determine the
best use of office buildings. In Upper Dublin, some of the older outdated office buildings are being
updated and converted to other uses and new residential buildings are being proposed and built.
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?
FERRY: I believe MDJ’s [Magesterial District Judges] should set bail in the communities in which they are elected. The Montgomery County Police Chiefs Association has raised concerns about the pre-trial services system. The pre-trial service system has resulted in criminals being released and repeating their unlawful behavior. Crime is on the rise throughout our region and the Board of Commissioners should work with local law enforcement and the state police to fight crime. We should be more concerned about the victims of crime than the people who break the law.
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?
FERRY: As I noted previously, I think the program needs to be adjusted working with our law enforcement community and our MDJs [Magesterial District Judges).
If you win the election, what policy or reform will you want to be remembered for after you have served?
FERRY: My first goal is to get Montgomery County’s fiscal house in order. I intend to work to reduce
taxes, minimize debt, bring more companies into the county to help reduce the tax burden on residents,
and develop innovative ways to provide services.
Despite being the only Republican on a seven-member board of commissioners in Upper Dublin
township, I effectively advocated reducing tax increases by doing my homework and finding budget
savings. I was able to hold the line on taxes for the past two years. In 2021, I cut a Democrat-proposed
tax increase by 30%. In 2020, I did the same by 10%, and in 2019, I was able to cut spending and a tax
increase by 50%. A minority commissioner can be effective, but it takes hard work. Simply voting no
and not playing a role gets us nowhere and only results in unchecked spending and tax increases.
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?
FERRY: The Covanta trash-to-energy plant has diverted tons of waste from landfills providing energy to
thousands of homes. Ensuring residents have clean air to breathe is imperative. As county commissioner, I would work with the U.S. EPA Region III office and the state Department of Environmental Protection, Covanta, and its neighbors to determine the environmental impact on the community. Covanta is under both federal and state permitting requirements and is required to adhere to strict standards of safety.
What are three things the county can do to encourage developers to consider including affordable
housing within their projects?
FERRY: Montgomery County has a wide variety of housing. Zoning decisions are best made by local
municipalities working with developers and residents. Increasing the state Property Tax and Rent Rebate
Program could further assist families to afford housing. We should also expand benefits for our veterans
to assist first-time home buyers and those struggling to find housing. In addition, public officials should
work with state representatives to examine expanding the Pennsylvania Housing Affordability and
Rehabilitation Enhancement Fund to assist homeowners and those seeking housing.
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?
FERRY: The county needs to work with local municipalities, behavioral health professionals, and
residents to ensure that those who need housing are helped. The county’s practice of providing tents to
the homeless is a bad policy and helps no one. Currently, the county has 162 emergency shelter beds,
which is insufficient. Homelessness requires a multi-pronged approach. Providing emergency shelters
and temporary housing must also include mental health counseling, drug and alcohol counseling,
financial counseling, and job placement assistance.
What are the most over and underused words in politics?
The county commissioners passed an 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?
FERRY: The County Commissioners approved an 8% property tax increase in 2022 because they said they had a “structural budget deficit” of $18.6 million. That simply means that they have more expenses than revenues. They need to cut spending! The new $415 Justice Center will likely end up costing taxpayers $1 billion. That’s unacceptable. Our County Commissioners need to do their homework and cut out the excess waste from this unnecessary project. In addition, no county official should be voting for or accepting a salary increase while increasing taxes on its residents. It’s time to get the county’s fiscal house in order.