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.
Tom DiBello 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.
DiBello is a previous member of the Spring-Ford School Board.
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?
It was very unfortunate to hear about the cancellation of the King of Prussia Rail extension because like many people I thought this would be a wonderful addition to the community. With that said I grew very concerned about the projected costs to build the Rail extension. One would have to wonder why the costs were soaring into the billions to complete the project and how would the ROI ever be realized. Also, what was $30+ million to date spent on and how would any of that money get reimbursed to the county. I would like to see SEPTA identify one key project to enhance service and once elected we can work together to see what state and federal funding exists to offset the project costs. Let’s start with one win for the community
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 encourage businesses to come to Montgomery County the annual average 7% tax increases need to stop. As one of the next county commissioners, I will work hard to eliminate all wasteful spending, implement better budgeting procedures to reduce and eliminate tax increase. Most certainly, we have to address the growing crime occurring throughout the county. My goal is to make Montgomery County awesome and business friendly so that business want come, grow and stay.
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?
That’s more for the county planning commission to work out with the municipalities. However, I would definitely want to encourage municipalities to do their best to also help attract businesses to occupy available real estate. Most municipalities have multi-use defined with the code so utilizing the buildings isn’t the issue its finding businesses that want to make the investment which circles back to reducing high taxes and high crime,
Montgomery County transitioned to a pre-trial services system in recent years, which has led some residents to question why MDJs no longer set bail in their communities and instead have been moved to a countywide on-call rotation. Do you believe MDJs should set bail in the communities they’re elected to serve? What are the advantages of the county-wide system?
I absolutely agree that it should go back to the MDJs to hold preliminary arraignments and set the proper bail established by bail guidelines used for years. This again is an example of a process that wasn’t broken and for some reason the current leadership felt the need to change. Many police chiefs aren’t happy with nor support the change. I haven’t been able to identify any advantages to the change of a county-wide system.
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?
Pre-trail services need to be readjusted and proper bail needs to be set on individuals accused of violent crimes. We have seen over and over where bail reform was put in place and crime has risen, especially violent crime including a growing list of repeat offenders. We don’t have to look very far to see what is occurring in Philadelphia. This is one of the reasons I’m running so that we can put proper procedures back in place demonstrating crime isn’t welcomed in Montgomery County.
If you win the election, what policy or reform will you want to be remembered for after you have served?
In the previous questions, we talked about Bail Reform being addressed by putting back stricter bail policies especially for violent crime. I would also focus on election Integrity. Many voters have lost faith in the system. I will review all processes and procedures including the chain of custody with mail in ballots; cleanup voter rolls, and lobby the state to get out of the ERIC system if other states continue to leave the system. The ERIC system was a way for multiple states to share voting information but if states drop out of using the system it becomes less reliable and shouldn’t be used. I will analyze the use and purpose of drop boxes and most importantly, I will be observing very closely when ballots are being counted. I want to be able to stand in front of all the constituents in the county and confidently tell them I take election integrity very seriously and I trust the results. Hopefully that will start to restore their faith in the system.
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?
I haven’t been read into all the detail regarding this situation so I would want to explore further before making any judgements or decisions. Obviously, there are many legal ramifications associated with this property and tenant. Once elected, I will meet with residents to understand their issues and make verified recommendations to ensure the facility is acting as a good corporate neighbor. I will also contact the proper government agencies to understand further the levels of air pollution measured and see what guidelines if any can be implemented.
What are three things the county can do to encourage developers to consider including affordable housing within their projects?
I would work with both state and federal agencies to find ways to create housing affordability programs that could be available to everyone who would qualify. Although we need to keep in mind that there are many communities throughout the county where housing prices are still very reasonable and affordable. There needs to be a better way to help people find homes that are more affordable and even possibly help them acquire those homes without impacting taxpayers.
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?
I would definitely advocate for proper money and shelters to help our homeless people. But it needs to go further, we need to identify why people are homeless and then establish the right solutions addressing the core problems. Its great the current leadership took the time to pass out blankets, tents, handwarmers and get lots of pictures but that was only a short-term fix to a much bigger problem. That problem can only be solve by people who really want to work the core problems and ensure there are no more homeless people in Montgomery County,
What are the most over and underused words in politics?
Over used terms would be: Woke, Social Justice, Inclusion, there are probably a few more but of course if I state them, those words will be used against me. That’s how sad it has gotten.
Under used words: Bi-partisan solutions, Patriotism.
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?
Once elected, I plan on utilizing my background in dealing with large budgets to systematically review all expenses and sources of revenues. The goal is to reduce expenses without jeopardizing programs. There is a $20 million deficit currently in the budget that needs to be eliminated without increasing taxes. I also plan on recommending that a 7-year rolling budget is developed so that when looking at budgets we are using strategic budget forecasting. I also want to make sure there is a 20-year capital projects plan in place as well as a 5–10 year technology plan. This way, project related expenses are spread out over time. Too many times government agencies don’t plan accordingly and just add large projects to annual budgets without truly understanding the long-term effects on taxpayers. We need to find a find a pathway back to no tax increases in Montgomery County. We can’t continue with 7% average tax increases.