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.
Tanya Bamford 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.
Bamford is a current member of the Montgomery 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?
Connecting residents across the county with the essential resources they need is critical to the long-term health and prosperity of our community. Toward that end, public transportation plays a key role in removing barriers to access to critical resources. SEPTA can best serve Montgomery County by continuing to work with organizations like the The Partnership TMA (Transportation Management Association), as well as state, county and municipal officials to address the gaps in service that currently exist in our public transportation system. As commissioner, I will support SEPTA’s implementation of a micro transit service that bridges these gaps so as to enable people to more efficiently get to and from their homes to work, school, healthcare centers, as well as recreation and entertainment destinations. I would also encourage SEPTA to return some of their existing bus and rail service to pre-pandemic schedules, where demand indicates.
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.
Although working from home and other trends such as online shopping began impacting the way people interact with the built environment before the onset of COVID-19, there is no question the pandemic accelerated the impact on commercial real estate.
I do not know where demand for office and retail space will settle. In this era of remote workforces, hybrid work arrangements, and ecommerce, many businesses are still wrestling with basic questions. How much space do we need? How should the space be configured? Where should it be located? As a result, decisions regarding real estate occupancy are frequently delayed. That said, there are some things Montgomery County can do now to be well positioned to compete while it all shakes out.
What do you feel the county can do to encourage businesses to relocate to Montgomery County?
Economic development is not just about new business attraction, it is also about business retention and creating an environment where existing county businesses can prosper and grow. In either case, a skilled and available workforce is critical if Montgomery County is to attract and retain family-sustaining jobs. Workforce quality is often one of the top factors cited by site selectors. Whether Montgomery County residents are working from their homes or company facilities, workforce development must be a top priority if the county is to remain competitive.
Some business leaders including Kenneth Frazier, the former CEO of Montgomery County’s largest employer, Merck, and government leaders such as Governor Josh Shapiro have argued a four-year degree requirement is often an unnecessary barrier to employment. As more leaders come to the same realization that skills and aptitude may be more important than a four-year degree for many positions, the county’s workforce can be well positioned to seize the opportunity. Montgomery County can:
- assist Montgomery College Community College leadership in identifying resources necessary to further enhance and grow both its credit and non-credit offerings, with a particular focus on career training and professional development; and,
- evaluate the workforce development programming administered through MontcoWorks to ensure it meets the needs of employers and career seekers in this environment and identify opportunities to leverage or establish new public-private partnerships.
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?
I believe there will be commercial buildings in some markets that will likely be considered redundant or obsolete. Buildings may need to be repurposed and/or sites reimagined to accommodate mixed-use development. In terms of sustainability, it is better to encourage the reuse of existing buildings, than to build new ones. Although this is sometimes easier said than done. There are some things we can do in Montgomery County to help municipalities that want to proactively deal with redundant or obsolete commercial buildings including:
- the Montgomery County Planning Commission can provide municipalities with technical assistance, model ordinances, and design guidelines to provide for greater flexibility in zoning and building regulation; and,
- municipalities that identify buildings and sites that are potential candidates for repurposing or redevelopment can work with the Montgomery County Commerce Department to promote the projects.
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 of the county-wide system?
Recent reforms to the pre-trial services system have received mixed reviews. While some feel the recent reforms have reduced the number of people being held in detention before their court appearances—something which has disproportionately impacted Black and brown communities historically—others feel that removing this control from the MDJs [magesterial district judges) in their communities has not only created a disconnect between the local judges and the people they were elected to serve, but has resulted in the overuse of unsecured bail and increased rates of recidivism.
Among the challenges of the county’s pre-trial services system are the general lack of information or educational resources surrounding the new system and how it works. There is also an overall lack of transparency about adjustments which are made by the Court of Common Pleas during bail review.
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?
As Commissioner, I will support a thorough review of the system to evaluate whether the reforms have achieved their initial objectives, and whether additional modifications are warranted to identify and, where necessary, correct for any unintended consequences that have resulted from the new system.
If you win the election, what policy or reform will you want to be remembered for after you have served?
When I retire from the Board of Commissioners, I would like my legacy to be improving morale for county employees. Currently, the county is facing staffing shortages across every department which compromises our ability to deliver services to our constituents. These positions are difficult to fill because the county isn’t paying a competitive wage. These prolonged staffing shortages have taken a toll on employees as they have had to shoulder heavier workloads. As commissioner, I am committed to making the necessary budget adjustments to course correct where necessary to ensure that county employees are not only fairly compensated, they are provided with opportunities for training, recognition, and wellness programs. By investing in the people who perform the critical work of our county, and aligning staff around our mission, we will ultimately improve not only our ability to recruit effectively, but job satisfaction and ultimately the experiences our constituents have when they interact with our staff.
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?
As a landlord, the county has some responsibility to ensure that their tenants are compliant with PA DEP regulations to protect the environment and the inhabitants of the surrounding community. I can see from Covanta’s recent Title V/State Operating Permit renewal application that there have been a series of violations and fines levied against Covanta’s Plymouth facility—one of a significant nature occurring in September, 2020. If it hasn’t already been addressed, when I’m elected I will ensure that staff reach out to both the PA DEP and Covanta for an update on the status of the company’s efforts to remedy those violations. I’ll also work to ensure that the updates are communicated appropriately with the residents nearby in Plymouth Township. Moving forward, I will work with the county’s solicitor to review contract language for leases to ensure that any parties leasing property from the county maintain compliance with PA DEP regulations and—if such language is not already present—incorporate strong language that would make those leases subject to termination should the leasing party fail to comply with the PA DEP within a reasonable time period.
What are three things the county can do to encourage developers to consider including affordable housing within their projects?
In March 2021, the Homes for All report was prepared in partnership with Montco Planning Commission, Office of Housing and Community Development, and Commerce Department, as well as Capacity for Change, LLC. The report addresses how to meet the challenge of affordable housing. Some of the tools that can be used to encourage developers to incorporate affordable housing in mixed-use development include:
- Tax Incremental Financing (TIF)
- Transit Oriented Development (TOD) Incentives
- Low-Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC)
- Local Economic Revitalization Tax Assistance (LERTA)
- Transit Revitalization Investment Districts (TRID)
- Mainstreet/Elm Street Programs
- Inclusionary Zoning
As Montgomery County Commissioner, I will support the expansion of this initiative and its rollout among our 62 municipalities—particularly those with properties which would be appropriate for this type of redevelopment.
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?
The most recent PIT (Persons in Time) count identified 329 persons without homes living in the county. Although this is a significant decrease from 2022, it’s still far too many. Fortunately, a Homelessness Task Force was just formed to address this issue throughout the county. As commissioner, I look forward to working alongside the members of this task force to address this issue.
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?
Public officials have a fundamental responsibility to be good stewards of tax dollars. As a Supervisor in Montgomery Township, I encouraged staff to research grants and other funding resources as frequently as possible to help offset the costs of our capital projects and facility enhancements. With the support of our governing partners, Montgomery Township has been successful in obtaining hundreds of thousands of dollars in grant money to assist with efforts ranging from building accessible playgrounds, to improving parks and trails. We also looked for efficiencies within each department, and reduced expenses when and where possible–particularly during COVID. As County Commissioner, I will continue to work in this capacity, to ensure that no grant goes unexplored to help finance new and strategic projects. We will also take a hard look at other areas of spending to seek out opportunities for greater efficiency so that critical initiatives requiring additional funding can be accomplished without the need to raise taxes.
Disclosure – Bamford’s campaign is an advertiser on Burb Media’s three sites.