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Montgomery County Commissioners Raise Their Salaries, Slated to Increase Taxes

Montgomery County commissioners’ vote to raise taxes and give themselves a pay hike was a “gut punch” for taxpayers, a fiscal watchdog group said. But local Democrats dismiss the complaints as political theater.

During a special meeting last week, commissioners approved hefty pay raises for themselves and most row officers, even as taxpayers face an eight percent property tax hike. It is expected to result in $32 million more in property taxes paid by residents. It was the third consecutive year of property tax rate increases.

The board’s two Democrats, Dr. Valerie A. Arkoosh and vice chairman Kenneth Lawrence Jr., voted for the pay increase while the lone Republican, Joe Gale, opposed it.

Gale chastised colleagues for recklessly spending public money, saying they should be trying to provide relief for property owners.

Likening it to the “infamous midnight pay raise” state legislators gave themselves in 2005, Gale claimed the county was jamming the salary increases through “under the cloak of darkness.” But the county solicitor pushed back, saying the measure was required by law to be considered at a separate evening meeting between 6 and 9 p.m. when more residents would have a chance to share their opinions on it.

“I think it’s a bunch of bulls**t, and I think it’s absolutely wrong. And it is insulting to the general public,” Gale said. “The optics of this are terrible.”

Boards of Commissioners are empowered to set salaries for all elected officials except the district attorney.

Montgomery County’s chief financial officer Dean Dortone defended the salary increases, saying they were the first pay hikes for commissioners in 14 years and bring the county in line with what elected officials are paid in nearby counties.

On January 1, 2024, when the pay raises take effect, commissioners’ salaries will jump up from $87,600 to $98,200. The board chair’s salary will go from $90,900 to $101,800.

In each subsequent year, those salaries will increase by a percent less than the raises provided to “non-represented” employees, Dortone said.

Bucks and Chester Counties anticipate paying commissioners $103,900 and $97,500 in 2024 while their chairs also make slightly more.

Montgomery County row officers will make nearly $10,000 more in 2024, up to $88,700, while the register of wills gets $91,400, officials said at the meeting.

The Commonwealth Foundation, a free market think tank, condemned the commissioners’ actions.

“Montgomery County families need a break,” Nathan Benefield, senior vice president of the group told DVJournal. “Saddling families and small businesses already struggling with higher gas prices, higher electric bills, higher grocery costs, higher interest rates, and higher costs for services with higher property taxes is just another punch in the gut. Commissioners should instead focus on ways to reduce out-of-control government spending to protect working families from the burden of a massive tax hike.”

Gale, who ran an unsuccessful bid for governor earlier this year, vowed he would not accept any raise if he is still in office when it goes into effect, promising to donate any excess salary to a pro-life group. He also proposed tabling the measure, but his motion failed.

Gale’s fellow commissioner Lawrence mocked those complaints, claiming the Republican commissioner knew well in advance the board was voting on the salary increases and told him to “stop with the dramatics.”

“The Oscar goes to Commissioner Gale for self-righteous indignation,” Lawrence said.

Gale thundered back he was “shocked” by his colleagues’ actions and told them they should be ashamed of themselves.

“Use your indoor voice,” Lawrence taunted Gale.

The county will vote at the Dec. 15 meeting on the proposed 8 percent property tax increase for the fiscal year 2023 budget.

Projected general-fund revenues for the year are $512.1 million – with more than half of that amount being raised through property taxes – compared with more than $530 in anticipated expenditures, according to budget documents.

Those living in single-family homes with a market value of $430,000 can expect to pay $722 in property taxes when factoring in a $53 increase to account for the tax bump.

Dortone said at a previous meeting the COVID-19 pandemic and Hurricane Ida teamed up to produce the “perfect storm” of financial woes for the county, which faces its most challenging fiscal situation over the last half-decade.

Ida resulted in $24 million in “unanticipated” costs for cleanup and recovery, according to budget documents.

However, the county received more than $161 million in American Recovery Plan Act funds alone, in addition to millions in additional federal and state COVID-19 aid.

Some residents who spoke during public comment rallied to Gale’s defense, saying he seemed to be the lone public official “fighting for us” amid proposed tax increases.

“How are we supposed to put food on the table? How are we supposed to pay our bills?” one woman said. “You’re supposed to be working for us, not the other way around. I’m at a loss for words.”

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Montgomery County Judge Carluccio Launches Bid for PA Supreme Court

It’s not every day that a Montgomery County judge decides to run for the state’s top court.

President Judge Carolyn Tornetta Carluccio announced her candidacy for Pennsylvania Supreme Court this week.

Carluccio, who was elected to the Montgomery County Common Pleas Court in 2009, has served on the family, criminal, and civil court benches. Last year she was unanimously chosen by her peers to serve as the Court’s first female President Judge in county history. She served as president of the 2000-member Montgomery Bar Association in her second year on the bench.

An opening on the court occurred due to the September death of Justice Max Baer.

“Pennsylvanians want their judges to read and apply the law,” said Carluccio, Republican candidate for Supreme Court, “They also want jurists who will bring experience, temperament, and impartiality to our Commonwealth’s highest court.”

“For over a decade, I have had the privilege of presiding over criminal, family, civil and juvenile cases. This diverse court experience can be an asset to Pennsylvanians seeking experienced judges for our highest court,” she said.

Carluccio began her legal career as an Assistant United States Attorney prosecuting large-scale drug dealers, bank robbers, and money launderers. Her work earned her recognition from the United States Secret Service, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms.

“Drug dealers are lawbreakers: plain and simple,” continued Judge Carluccio, “I have experience putting dangerous criminals behind bars.  I know what prosecutors need from judges to keep our streets safe.”

Carluccio served as the first-ever female chief public defender for Montgomery County, where she managed a team of 35 staff and attorneys. She was also the chief deputy solicitor for the county and served as the acting director of human resources.

“I was proud to be the first-ever female Chief Public Defender in my county’s history. The position also instilled in me a passion for ensuring those with a diminished voice in our criminal justice system are heard,” she said.

Liz Preate Havey, chair of the Montgomery County Republican Committee, said, “Judge Carluccio is an outstanding and highly regarded judge with well-rounded legal experience and the appropriate temperament to sit on the Supreme Court. Her election as the first female President Judge in Montgomery County and as the next President of the PA Trial Judges Association is a testament to her character and how respected she is by her peers.  I am thrilled she has decided to run for Supreme Court after much encouragement from many attorneys and friends, including me.”

Carluccio earned her B.A. from Dickinson College and her J.D. degree from Delaware Law School. Carluccio’s court admissions include Pennsylvania, Delaware, Eastern District of Pennsylvania, District of Delaware, Third Circuit Court of Appeals, and the United States Supreme Court.

Throughout her career, Carluccio has received many professional awards and commendations for her work, including honors from the Montgomery Bar Association, the Department of the Treasury, the Secret Service, and the DEA.

A life-long resident of Montgomery County, Carluccio is married to lawyer Tom Carluccio.  The couple has three adult children: Andrew, Charlie, and Joseph.

So far, Superior Court Judges Deborah Kunselman of Beaver County and Daniel McCaffery of Philadelphia, both Democrats, have also announced that they are running for the seat.

 

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Montco Dems Choose New Party Chief As November Nears

As Montgomery County Democrats confront a challenging environment, they have selected a new chair to guide them into the 2022 midterm elections.

Jason Salus, formerly executive vice chair of the Montgomery County Democratic Party, is the new chairman. He is no stranger to Democratic politics, having chaired the Springfield Township Democrats and been Democratic area leader for Conshohocken, Plymouth, and Whitemarsh.

The 1992 presidential election whetted Salus’ interest in politics.

“My sister and I had health insurance through the CHIP program for lower-income kids, while my parents did not have health insurance at all,” he said. He recalled KYW airing a segment of a speech from then-presidential candidate Bill Clinton about health care reform, which resonated with him.

When he pointed out to his father how the speech “struck a chord” with him considering his family’s health care status, his father encouraged him to get involved despite not being very political.

“That night, we went home, got out the white pages, and looked up the number for our local Democratic committee person,” he said. Soon after that, Salus was knocking on doors after school and greeting voters at the polls. “That experience taught me that everyone, even at 13 years of age without politically-connected parents, can make a difference by rolling up their sleeves, doing the hard work, and volunteering for even a few hours a week.”

Outside of his roles inside political organizations, Salus was elected as a councilman in Conshohocken, and then he was elected Montgomery County Treasurer in 2011 in a narrow 2,500 vote win. He was re-elected in 2015 and 2019, increasing his margin of victory.

In a Facebook post earlier this month Salus attacked Montgomery County GOP Chair Liz Preate Havey for participating in a fundraiser for the Republican gubernatorial nominee.

“Doug Mastriano paid for antisemitic, alt-right extremists on Gab to join his campaign,” Salus wrote, referring to Mastriano’s work with the site where the Pittsburgh Tree of Life synagogue shooter made antisemitic posts before the deadly 2018 attack. “By hosting a fundraiser for Mastriano last week, Montgomery County GOP Chair Liz Havey aided and abetted this unacceptable hatred and antisemitism that has no place in our communities,” he claimed.

Mastriano has since distanced himself from Gab and the network’s controversial CEO. Havey did not respond to DVJ’s request for comment.

State Rep. Nancy Guenst (D-Hatboro), the only Democrat to flip a state House seat in 2020, praised Salus.

“He has been an incredible colleague and friend,” she said. “His devotion to our party, our candidates, and our constituents is truly honorable.”

As chair, Salus said his top priorities for Montgomery Democrats are filling vacant committeeperson spots and providing the necessary training for all of them to be prepared to win the races the party needs.

“Motivate them to knock on more doors, get to know their neighbors, and share information about our Democratic candidates and the options for casting a vote in every election,” Salus said. “I still do not shy away from hard work.”

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Philly Crime Hasn’t Crossed Into Suburbs; These DAs Think They Know Why

As Philadelphia’s crime crisis makes headlines every day, fears grow that the violence will spill into the suburbs. However, two years since that crime surge first started, those fears remain unfounded. For example, homicides in Montgomery County actually declined in 2020, the most recent year for which data is available.

And despite a rise in homicides in Delaware County in 2020, crime is falling in its most-violent municipality, Chester.

With the streets of Philadelphia engaged in what sometimes appears to border on open warfare, why has the violent crime problem crossed over into the Delaware Valley suburbs? Local district attorneys say it is because preventative efforts have slowly gained favor in law enforcement.

Delaware County District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer

Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele is a career prosecutor who has been in law enforcement for more than 30 years.  During that time, he watched law enforcement evolve from reacting to crime after it happens to proactively trying to prevent it.

“The role of a prosecutor has expanded from kind of looking back at that law-and-order type of thing,” Steele said. “I think where we’ve moved to is looking at prevention.”

Jack Stollsteimer, district attorney for Delaware County, cites the city of Chester’s fall in crime as a perfect example. He credits an initiative between the district attorney’s office and Chester’s mayor and police. The program looks to identify those who are committing crimes and then intervenes by giving them a choice.

“You go to them and you give them the opportunity to say, ‘We will help you if we can, but we will stop you if we must,’” Stollsteimer said. “You remove those people by getting them to stop killing, or you put them in jail.”

But the program does more than that. It establishes relationships within the community and involves every aspect of it as part of the effort to reduce crime. That includes the local basketball association, which helps create programming to keep kids out of trouble, Stollsteimer said.

It is all about a holistic approach to combating crime. “Everybody has a role to play in this story,” Stollsteimer explained. “It’s not even just getting law enforcement and (the) community to work together. It’s to get other government agencies, businesses.”

Steele points to Pottstown as another success. When he came into office in 2016, he said the town had a lot of unresolved shootings. The office used many different tools to eventually discover the suspects causing the violence and prosecuted them successfully. However, the story did not end there.

“We embedded a group of prosecutors in Pottstown to work with the police, with community leaders, with schools, with elected officials,” Steele said. These ‘community justice’ units stayed after the crime was solved to work to rebuild. “Now, if you look at a community like Pottstown, you hear about economic development, about the rising prices for housing in the area. It’s an area to go after.”

Despite the good news, Steele said Montgomery County still has problems. Those most important to him involve the preservation of life: Overdoses, violent crime, domestic violence, and child abuse.

On overdoses, Steele supports initiatives like drug take-back days to get pills out of medicine cabinets, where they might be readily available to addicts. There’s also a year-round effort like take-back boxes in every police department. And having Narcan in every police car to treat overdoses immediately can also prevent deaths.

With overdose deaths in Montgomery County falling last year even as ODs rose nationally, Steele sees evidence these efforts are paying off.

Guns remain the biggest issue in violent crime and straw purchasers–those who purchase firearms for others who legally cannot–are one of Steele’s greatest concerns. It is why Montgomery County is working collaboratively with neighboring counties to go after these purchasers, trying to get those guns back before they can be used in other crimes.

Montgomery County has a close relationship with local victim agencies, like the Laurel House, a domestic violence shelter, and Mission Kids, a child advocacy center. They work with experts collaboratively to prevent abuse while also accommodating crime victims.

“The saves are hard to quantify,” he said. “But if you look at what’s going on around us, and the direction that other places are going that aren’t doing the things that we’re doing, I think that that’s a very important thing to look at.”

In Delaware County, Stollsteimer said challenges depend on the specific community. There is an increase in car thefts in more affluent Swarthmore, but violent crime appears to be rising in Upper Darby.

Some of it may be due to a spillover from Philadelphia, Stollsteimer said, with many Delaware County municipalities bordering the city. However, years of neglect and rises in poverty in some areas may also play a role.

“There are people who have been predicting now for a generation if you don’t invest in the housing stock and businesses (in the first generation suburbs),” he said. “You’re going to see the same problems you’re seeing in urban neighborhoods.”

But initiatives like that of Chester may be the guide to successfully turning back the tide.

“The roadmap is there,” Stollsteimer said. “We just have to follow the plan.”

Delaware County also has not been shy about criminal justice reforms similar to those blamed on the increase in Philly crime since progressive District Attorney Larry Krasner took office.

Stollsteimer supported the de-privatization of the county prison and recently started a central arraignment process involving his office, the courts, and public defenders, where bails are actively reviewed.  And defendants are given access to lawyers early in the process.

His office last year also created a program with state Attorney General Josh Shapiro known as the Law Enforcement Treatment Initiative, where individuals can contact law enforcement to seek treatment for addictions without any fear of prosecution or arrest.

Stollsteimer called that a more long-term investment than policy changes, but says he hopes it will allow the office to help communities more.

“If we have only the maximum number of people incarcerated for as long as required for the conditions of justice, then we can use some of those savings to reinvest in people,” he said, about not solely relying on incarceration.

But the most important key to success, said Steele, is the level of trust his office has built between residents and law enforcement.

“That’s earned. You can’t just say, ‘trust me,’” Steele said. “You have to earn it, every day. And you earn it by making a difference in people’s lives.”

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GOP PA-04 Candidate Nascimento Takes Questions at Town Hall

About 30 people came to Blue Bell Tuesday for a town hall held by Republican congressional candidate Christian Nascimento.

Nascimento, 48, who is challenging incumbent Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-Montgomery), discussed help for American businesses and keeping the country safe.

“Small businesses are the life blood of the American economy,” he said. Supply chain issues are plaguing businesses, including Open Tier Systems, an IT service company that hosted the town hall.  That issue, coupled with inflation and the losses from COVID-19 shutdowns, has hit the U.S. economy hard.

“That’s the story I hear time and time again, whether it’s someone that works for a big national company or the barber shop down the street. Things have gotten more expensive.”

“There’s a common denominator to all of this, and it’s the failed policies of this administration and this Congress,” said Nascimento.  “The president has to be honest. This is not Vladimir Putin’s price hike. You can’t blame all of this on a mad dictator…And the Congress blindly goes along with (Biden). The representative that we currently have in this seat (Dean) votes with the president 100 percent of the time. So she owns this.”

“I believe we can develop a pro-growth agenda and a pro-growth economy,” said Nascimento.

“A lot of it is making sure the American people, whether they’re born in Norristown or Narberth, have a good job, and can build a good life.”

He called for reducing the regulatory burden on all businesses, particularly small businesses and for an increase in the R&D (research and development) tax credits.

“Just think of our government focused on things we need to solve for and that didn’t cede AI (artificial intelligence) to China and other folks who are our adversaries,” he said. Nascimento also called for increased oil production in the U.S. to ease “the pain at the pump,” while investing in renewables.

Instead of using our natural resources Biden canceled the Keystone pipeline and is begging for oil in the Middle East, putting America at the “economic moral and national security mercy of our adversaries.”

Nascimento is a Montgomery County native and first-generation American.  After a career with Comcast, the father of four is running for office to serve the country and “give back,” he told Delaware Valley Journal.

“I’m going to be an independent voice for the people of the 4th (District),” he said. “I am going to go toe-to-toe with Democrats and I’m going to buck Republicans sometimes. I’m going to vote for what I believe is right.”

Whitpain resident Brian McCarthy, who owns Open Tier, asked Nascimento about the cyber security problems the country faces.  Nascimento said the country needs to invest in our digital infrastructure.

“We are woefully unprepared for this digital economy,” he said.  Mentioning the nuclear power plant in Limerick, he said anything connected to the internet could be hacked. “Power plants, business, homes, they’re all at risk,” he said. “The amount of harm those cyberattacks can do is breathtaking.”

“There has to be a response,” he said. “You cannot allow foreign actors to hack into government, to hack into individuals living in this country and allow them to get away with it. Right now, Putin, Xi, none of those folks expect there is going to be any repercussions. Because President Biden has shown time and time again they’re right.”

America also needs to compete with China’s “Belt and Road” policy. This country needs to bring back manufacturing so “we are not dependent on the Chinese” for essential products.

“Peace through strength is the only way to deal with China,” said Nascimento.

Local resident Scott Miller asked, “After Friday (Supreme Court decision on Roe) the whole point of the Democratic initiative is going to be a wild-eyed attack on everything, because of federalism, sending things back to the states to be determined, to be debated and voted on…How do you intend to deal with a wild-eyed onslaught?”

Nascimento said he would stay calm.

“We’ve got to change the way we’ve been doing things in the last year and a half,” he said. “The damage that’s being done to the economy and by extension to American families and ultimately to the country is just unprecedented. You may call me naïve but I believe that people are looking for leadership. The screaming and wild-eyed, I think that will work against (Democrats). The country was built on federalism.”

Blue Bell resident Katie Wenger asked about Second Amendment rights and school safety.

Nascimento said Dr. Oz, who is running for the Senate, has a great line, which the Second Amendment is second because it protects the First Amendment.

“In my mind the constitution says you have the right to bear arms,” he said. “If you’re like me and you’re pro-life, it’s not just pro-birth. It’s making sure that a child has an opportunity to live a life and be safe.”

“I’m not in favor of red flag laws because I think it’s too dangerous for a person’s individual liberty and the constitution says you can’t have your liberty taken away by unreasonable search and seizure.

“The problem we have with guns is…is enforcing the laws we have,” Nascimento said.

“When someone commits a crime with a gun, you have to arrest that person, and after you arrest them you have to prosecute them. That seems pretty basic. But that’s not happening in Philadelphia and it’s not happening in a lot of places.”

A former Methacton School Board president, he said security doors and armed resource officers would help.

“The way you respect life is you help people that are struggling,” he said. “That young man in Uvalde had clearly been struggling for a long time and showed a lot of signs of it and the system failed him. The issue in Uvalde in particular was not a gun issue. It was a mental crisis issue.”

Nascimento believes education and jobs go a long way toward preventing crime.

“You don’t have rampant crime if you have prospects,” said Nascimento. “If you look at what’s happening just down the road in Philadelphia. There are really only three problems in Philadelphia: Kenney, Krasner and Outlaw.”

 

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DelVal Counties Gear Up for 2022 Primary on May 17

Voters head back to the polls for the May 17 primary in what is shaping up to possibly be a historic election season in Pennsylvania.

Only registered Democrats and Republicans can vote in the upcoming election as the Keystone State remains one of nine states with closed primaries.

Election officials in Delaware, Chester, Bucks, and Montgomery Counties expect between 25 to 30 percent voter turnout.

Pennsylvania’s redistricting process caused some delays in mailing out ballots, election officials said. Local counties sent tens of thousands of mail-in ballots, but requests in some areas were down from previous elections.

The mail-in option, popular during the COVID-19 pandemic, is still available to voters in the primary, as the state Supreme Court mulls over whether to keep intact Act 77 following a lower-court decision overturning the controversial law.

This time, election officials are bracing for an influx of in-person voting as the public health crisis wanes.

“In 2020, you had the perfect storm of new voting equipment, new options for voters, and the pandemic. And people wanting to vote at a distance,” said James Allen, director of election operations for Delaware County. “It was pre-vaccine. It was at a time when nationwide we were experiencing horrific levels of deaths and hospitalizations. Now we’re past that.”

The gubernatorial race has been bruising for the GOP, with nine contenders in a crowded field vying for the party’s nomination ahead of a fall race that is expected to shatter state campaign spending records.

The field includes  Republicans state Sen. Jake Corman, former Congressman Lou Barletta, Montgomery County Commissioner Joe Gale, GOP consultant Charlie Gerow, former Congresswoman Melissa Hart, state Sen. Doug Mastriano, former U.S. Attorney Bill McSwain, business owner and former Delaware County Councilman Dave White, and Nche Zama, a cardiothoracic surgeon. Attorney General Josh Shapiro does not face a primary challenger as the lone Democrat in the race.

With nearly $18 million in his campaign war chest Shapiro, in his second term as attorney general, outraised all of his GOP opponents combined. Shapiro is no stranger to politics. He is a former state representative and served as chair of the Montgomery County commissioners.

He will have a leg up in the general election as Democrats look to keep control of the executive branch, currently led by the term-limited Gov. Tom Wolf, in a state where the General Assembly has been controlled by Republicans for nearly seven years.

White has infused millions of his own cash into his campaign and is banking on blue-collar appeal to put him over the top.

“We’re expecting a big voter turnout,” said Tom McGarrigle, chairman of the Delaware County Republican Committee. “We have one of our own. He’s our focus of the election.”

With the U.S. Senate evenly split between Democrats and Republicans, both parties are all in to replace outgoing Republican Sen. Pat Toomey, who opted not to seek reelection.

Much attention has been given to Dr. Mehmet Oz, better known by his TV personality Dr. Oz, and Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, one of four Democrats running for the seat.

The Democratic field includes U.S. Rep. Connor Lamb and Alex Khalil, a Jenkintown Borough councilwoman known for activism in Montgomery County but considered a longshot in the race.

Meanwhile, frontrunner Fetterman has been hammered by opponents over an incident in 2013, when he was mayor of majority-Black Braddock Borough, where he detained a Black jogger at shotgun-point after hearing what he thought was gunfire in the area.

Opponent state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta accused the popular lieutenant governor of acting like “f–ing Batman” and called on him to apologize to the jogger, Christopher Miyares.

Democrats worry Fetterman’s refusal to own up to the mistake could depress the Black vote in urban areas and leave him vulnerable to attacks from Oz, who hopes to capitalize on an endorsement from former President Donald Trump.

“Democrats understand that control of the federal Congress is paramount,” said Joe Foster, chairman of the Montgomery County Democratic Committee. “These are races you can’t take lightly.”

A cardiothoracic surgeon who amassed great personal wealth, Oz has positioned himself as an outsider since announcing his candidacy.

He is widely considered the man to beat in a field of seven Republicans that includes attorney Sean Gale, a Montgomery County lawyer, whose brother, Joe, is also running for governor; commentator Kathy Barnette; Montgomery County developer Jeff Bartos, George Bochetto, a Philadelphia lawyer; Hedge fund CEO David McCormick and Carla Sands, the former ambassador to Denmark in the Trump administration.

In the lieutenant governor race, state Rep. Austin Davis was handpicked by Shapiro as a running mate.

Delaware County Democratic Committee Chairwoman Colleen Guiney called Davis a “man of tremendous integrity and honor” among the slate of Dems running in the primary.

“I will stand by any one of our candidates,” she said. “There will always be questions about one little thing here or there. I see what the Republicans have done, I see what Toomey has done, and I  can’t imagine that any Democrat would vote in a way Toomey has voted.”

Chester County

Chester County expects between six to eight poll workers per precinct. As of April 26, 36,514 people requested mail-in ballots, compared with nearly 87,000 in the 2020 primary and a little more than 38,000 in last year’s primary, election officials said. The county had at least 155,797 registered Democrats compared with 150,933 registered Republicans.

Montgomery County

The county has roughly 1,800 poll workers for all of its 426 precincts, said Dori Sawyer director of Montgomery County Office of Voter Services. It is seeking more poll workers in Abington, Cheltenham, Green Lane, Lower Merion, Perkiomen, Plymouth, Skippack, Upper Moreland, and Upper Salford. Those interested in helping must be registered to vote in the county. They can reach out by email at [email protected] or by phone at 610-278-3280. The county processed about 70,000 mail-in ballots applications.

The county has 298,266 registered Democrats and 204,195 registered Republicans. Those not registered with a party have until May 2 to change affiliations so they can vote in the primary.

Bucks County

The county has staffed about 1,600 poll workers but is looking for additional help in Bristol Township, Falls Township, Middletown Township, and Warminster Township. More than 52,000 voters requested mail-in ballots, compared with more than 67,000 last November. The county is split 202,056 Democrats to 194,002 Republicans, with nearly another 80,000 unaffiliated voters who cannot vote in the primary.

Delaware County

Delaware County processed more than 31,000 mail-in ballots for the upcoming primary. It will have 40 secure drop boxes kept under surveillance throughout the day. The county had 202,337 registered Democrats compared with 150,539 Republicans. Republican state Rep. candidate Robert Jordan, running in the 165th Legislative District, was removed from the ballot by the state Supreme Court, but election officials said his name may still appear on some of the early mail-in ballots. Any votes for him will not be counted.

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Berks, Chester and Montgomery Counties Authorize New Passenger Rail Authority

From a press release

Chester County Commissioners Marian Moskowitz, Josh Maxwell and Michelle Kichline approved today the creation of the Schuylkill River Passenger Rail Authority, completing the approval last week of the Authority by the Commissioners from Berks and Montgomery Counties.

The Schuylkill River Passenger Rail Authority (SRPRA) will oversee and implement the restoration of passenger rail service between Reading and Philadelphia and will be supported with equal representation and funding from all three counties, starting with a $100,000 investment.  The SRPRA will have the power to formalize agreements, pursue funding opportunities and partner with rail operators and state and federal transportation agencies.

Each County held a public hearing to consider the creation of the passenger rail authority and during those hearings, the commissioners heard a groundswell of support from their respective communities as many residents, business owners and community leaders voiced their excitement about the prospect of the return of passenger rail. Berks and Montgomery counties approved resolutions to create the authority during their respective meetings on April 21, followed by Chester County approving the resolution on April 27.

Information about the initiative and the Schuylkill River Passenger Rail Authority can be found at www.chesco.org/passengerrail.

The creation of the SRPRA is not a guarantee that passenger rail will return, but it is a crucial next step to continue the long process of research and planning. Commissioners from each County noted that while there had been talk of restoring passenger rail service before, this is the first time any type of initiative has gotten this far. County leaders are also optimistic that this effort will be successful due to the potential funding available through the federal bipartisan infrastructure bill.

The SRPRA will be reevaluated and up for reauthorization by all three counties in three years to give county officials an opportunity to determine if it is still a worthwhile effort. The Authority will consist of nine members, with three appointees from each county.  The following individuals were approved as the inaugural members of the Authority:

• Christian Leinbach, Berks County Commissioner

• Marian Moskowitz, Chester County Commissioner

• Kenneth Lawrence Jr., Montgomery County Commissioner

• Jim Gerlach, President of the Greater Reading Chamber Alliance

• Eddie Moran, Reading Mayor

• Brian O’Leary, Director of the Chester County Planning Commission

• Peter Urscheler, Phoenixville Mayor

• Scott France, Director of the Montgomery County Planning Commission

• David Zellers, Director of the Montgomery County Commerce Department

The SRPRA was formed after the Tri-County Passenger Rail Committee spent a year exploring the most efficient manner to restore passenger rail service to the region. The Committee was a nine-member group comprised of one County Commissioner from each county and other local leaders. The members of the committee are confident that passenger rail service in places like Reading, Pottstown and Phoenixville could potentially generate more than $1 billion in new property development and existing property value increases, which translates to thousands of jobs and the expansion of local and federal tax bases over the next 30 years. Further, passenger rail service would provide transportation and job opportunities to underserved minority communities and immediately impact some of the largest clusters of low- and moderate-income households in the suburbs of Southeastern Pennsylvania.

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Ballot Box Dispute Roils Montgomery County

Montgomery County officials have taken issue with a video that the county Republican Party obtained through a right-to-know request and released to the news media.

The video shows a woman feeding several ballots into an Upper Dublin ballot box used in last November’s election. Ballot boxes and no excuse mail-in ballots permitted under Act 77 have been an issue in the last three elections, with many voters questioning the integrity of the new system.

Even though individuals are required to put their own ballots into ballot boxes, the county said in a letter to GOP Chair Liz Preate Havey that the woman shown was permitted to submit those ballots because she had “a completed Designated Agent Form in accordance with Pennsylvania law.”

“Each form properly identified the individual voter and designated the individual in the video as the person permitted to act as an agent on the voter’s behalf,” the letter said. “The county maintains each of these Designated Agent forms in its possession. This individual did nothing wrong. In fact, the video shows this voter taking the proper steps to enfranchise residents of a local rehabilitation and long-term care facility so that their votes were legally cast.

“It is irresponsible that MCRC, rather than make a reasonable attempt to get the facts, released this video to a third party and on MCRC social media falsely accusing the individual involved with ‘illegal ballot harvesting,’ when in fact, the individual correctly followed the rules for returning ballots. Mail-in ballots may be returned to the Board of Elections by a designated agent acting on behalf of a voter who, due to a disability, is not able to do so on their own.

“Returning ballots to a secure ballot drop box is one of several ways to return ballots to the Board of Elections. Many voters of both parties choose to deliver their ballot to a secure drop box for the peace of mind they provide. Each drop box has the rules clearly posted, is under 24-hour video surveillance, and has every ballot collected daily by a sheriff’s deputy and delivered directly to Voter Services,” according to the letter, which a county spokesperson released to Delaware Valley Journal.

Not surprisingly, the Republicans disagreed with the county officials’ explanation.

In a press release, GOP officials said, “The Pennsylvania Department of State designated agent form clearly states, ‘the person you designate as your agent is only allowed to serve as a designated agent for one voter, unless the additional voter(s) live in the same household as you (the voter named in this form).’”

They called the county’s response “deeply troubling.”

“The county is interpreting a large senior living facility as one household,” the Republicans said. “The Pennsylvania Department of State Voting Fact Sheet for Long Term Care Facilities specifically states a  ‘household’ for the purpose of designating an agent does not include a long-term care facility.”

Also, “the county fails to note whether or not the woman who did the ballot harvesting lives in the ‘same household as all the people for whom she dropped the ballots as required by Pennsylvania law. That is because she does not live in a senior living facility according to her voter registration. She has been identified by many as a long-time leader in the Democrat Party.”

And the Republicans said, “The county never addressed designated agents using drop boxes for any reason in its published instructions or in any communication with the Republican Party or its candidates.”

“The Democrat-controlled county has chosen to protect one of its own party leaders in direct violation of Pennsylvania law,” the Republicans added. “This kind of blatant disregard for even the simplest election security rules is unacceptable and contributes to the deep distrust many have in our system.”

In addition, the “MCRC is requesting the Montgomery County Election Board provide all the evidence that the county reviewed regarding the woman who dropped the multiple ballots. And we ask that it also provide the information to the district attorney and, if appropriate, the attorney general.

“We would also like to know the county’s conclusions and actions to be taken about each of the other 106 people who dropped more than one ballot at the Upper Dublin drop box. If the county does not provide this information, MCRC is prepared to submit a Right to Know Request for this information.”

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Montco, Bucks Sue State Over Dates on Mail-In Ballots

The Montgomery County and Bucks County boards of elections have filed a lawsuit against the Pennsylvania Department of State secretary seeking to clarify the rules for mail-in and absentee ballots.

At issue is whether ballots where voters do not include a date with their signature as instructed can still be counted.

“The Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that a county board of elections must have a compelling reason for refusing to canvass a ballot due to minor irregularities,” the suit said. And it added, “The legislature has failed to provide any clarification for voters or county boards of election regarding the voter’s declaration.”

Rep. Seth Grove (R-York) said the legislature is filing a brief to intervene in the case, which is pending in Commonwealth Court. According to the docket, state lawyers asked for more time to respond to the suit, which was filed Oct. 1.

Grove, who chairs the House Government Committee, said the Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued rulings in the 2020 election to permit the counting of mail-in ballots in an Allegheny County race that were not properly signed and dated.

The state Supreme Court ruled on Nov. 23, 2020 against a challenge brought by Nicole Ziccarelli, who lost a close state Senate election, regarding the validity of 2,349 mail-in ballots that were signed but not dated. A four-justice majority held that not dating the ballots “did not warrant the disenfranchisement of thousands of Pennsylvania voters.”

“Uniformity, that’s our big issue with the elections,” Grove said. “You’re seeing non-uniform policies.”

Grove said the changes requested in the lawsuit filed by Bucks and Montco officials had been part of previous legislation vetoed by Gov. Tom Wolf. In an op-ed in “The Federalist,” Grove accused the county officials of working to advance the goals of the Democratic Party through the courts, rather than working with legislators to fix the state’s election laws.

However, new election laws were introduced in the legislature to make the voting process smoother.

“As the Voting Rights Protection Act moves through the legislative process, the committee today took steps to ensure elections across the commonwealth’s 67 counties are uniform and that all voters are treated equally,” Grove said, on his website. “We also took a major step toward holding non-elected public servants accountable in terms of ensuring ballot questions actually up on ballots.”

Grove cited these bills:  Senate Bill 738 by Sen. Kristin Phillips-Hill (R-York) would require the Department of State to post a tracker on its website for the public to monitor every step and action item the department is taking to ensure proper compliance to carry out a proposed constitutional amendment.

And House Bill 1482 by Rep. Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster) would require the Commonwealth and each county in this Commonwealth to implement a post-election audit using an approved auditing method.

In addition, House Bill 2044 by Rep. Eric Nelson (R-Westmoreland) would end private funding for public elections in the commonwealth.  More than $20 million was given by a nonprofit related to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg went to 21 Pennsylvania counties that were trending Democratic or had a majority of Democratic voters in 2020.

While there were widely reported issues with the 2020 election, there have also been problems with the Nov. 2 2021 election, particularly with mail-in ballots in Montgomery, Chester and Delaware counties.

In Indiana County, Grove said, voters were given the wrong instructions for mail-in ballots, then the corrected instructions issued were also incorrect.

“You can’t make this stuff up,” he said.

He is very concerned about the 2022 election cycle, since the governor’s office and a U.S. Senate seat will be contested and large numbers of voters will likely cast ballots. The Senate seat, now held by Republican Sen. Pat Toomey, who is not running again, could decide which party controls of the Senate and is widely thought to be a seat that might flip to the Democrats.

“Next year in Pennsylvania there will be a nationalized election for the outcome of Congress,” said Grove.  “We want to at least make sure Frances Wolf does not become confused in the next election.” Grove was referring to a widely reported error by the first lady, who dropped off her husband’s mail-in ballot, in violation of election laws.

A spokesperson for Wolf called that incident “an honest mistake.”

Montco Ballot Mess Delays Some Election Results

Last month, Montgomery County election officials learned that approximately 16,000 mail-in ballots for Tuesday’s election were printed incorrectly. On Nov. 3, the Montgomery County Board of Elections released an update on the 2021 General Election with final results not expected until the weekend.

The update shows all ballots cast in-person have been recorded, but mail-in and provisional ballots are still being processed. While final results are expected to be delayed, the county will continue to update its online results dashboard on a regular basis in the following days as eligible ballots are counted and validated, officials said.

The county is sequestering the returned ballots related to the previously announced misprint of mail-in ballots by its printer, officials said. Affected ballots are subject to a separate verification process that was approved by the Board of Elections and shared with both political parties as well as the Pennsylvania Department of State.

The county has also encountered a higher than usual number of ballots that could be read by ballot scanners. Officials are following an established process in a bipartisan fashion to recreate the impacted ballots to make sure every eligible vote is validated and counted. The process occurs during every election as there are various reasons ballots are sometimes unable to be scanned.

Officials estimate approximately 23,000 ballots are affected by the two issues. Results will continue to be updated in real-time on the results dashboard as ballots are counted and validated.

“No matter what side of the aisle, I think we can all agree that waiting nearly a week for election results is unacceptable. We can do better,” said Clarice Schillinger, executive director of Back to School PA, a group that supported school board candidates who want to keep students in the classrooms.

Joe Gale, the sole Republican Montgomery County Commissioner, sounded off on the issue and about his own party yesterday via Instagram.

“Yet another election mess has been caused by Act 77, the unconstitutional Pennsylvania law that created 50 days of no-excuse mail-in voting,” said Gale, a GOP Pennsylvania gubernatorial hopeful. “If you or someone you know lost an election because of mail-in voting or the results still remain unknown because of mail-in voting, be sure to blame Doug ‘Mail-In’ Mastriano and every other Republican state senator who voted for Act 77.”

Ken Lawrence, vice chairman of the county commissioners told The Reporter that amid the ongoing controversy he was excited about the turnout for Tuesday’s election.

“I think there was a lot of interest in this election, particularly the school board races, our local elections,” Lawrence said. “So I think it’s great to see people were coming out to vote in person or to vote by mail.”

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