"We must continue to improve transparency in our County government. But accountability is just as important. During my lifetime, the Delaware County Council has consistently sought to push decisions and responsibilities down to the municipalities. While autonomy sounds nice, it imposes enormous costs and difficult choices on municipalities that often lack full time professional staff and the tax base to fully fund needed resources. Can our small boroughs and townships really shoulder the costs for public safety and basic services like snow removal, let alone invest in road, bridge and sewer repair, planning for future development and desperately needed public health and technology infrastructure? Delaware County could be doing so much more in all of these areas to coordinate available resources and it could use its state and federal dollars to improve the efficiency of services."
LIST OF ISSUES
Delaware County touts its bond rating and its pension funding. But prior to the arrival of Joanne Phillips as our County Controller, it did not publish its audits or its annual controller reports. The County's open records office does not produce the auditor's letters to management with the audits they relate to, even though a public company would never dream of being able to separate the two. Those audit letters highlight challenges for the agency being audited. Challenges repeatedly cited in Delco include cash management challenges and problems with succession planning. Yet in a County with over 300 unfilled jobs, there is no on-line job posting mechanism. And that pension funding? The money goes in but there has not been any assessment in recent years of the amount that goes out in fees, a standard means of evaluating the return to employees who will count on those pensions. We need to shine the light on all of the things the County government should be doing better to manage our tax dollars and the return on investment we should be seeing from County expenditures.
Prison Oversight & Criminal Justice Reform
The County Council has it in its power to bring its prison board into the 21st Century and to exercise oversight of the private prison contractor who is paid annually an amount equal to 30% of all the tax dollars collected by the County. Once we do that, we can systematically work towards terminating the contract and put the George W. Hill Correctional Facility under public management. Our neighboring counties manage county jail facilities for considerably less. Even Montgomery County, which has a substantially larger population operates its prison for less. More important, since it operates its prison without a profit attached to each prisoner it houses, Montgomery County is free to implement diversionary programs and bail reform to keep non-violent offenders with minimal flight risk out of prison. When people who are charged, but not yet convicted, avoid sitting in jail while awaiting adjudication, they can retain their jobs, pay their taxes and support their children at a greatly reduced cost to taxpayers. Delaware County needs to adopt practices that maximize the likelihood of rehabilitating offenders. In most cases, that means finding a way to keep them as independent as possible and sending people who need substance abuse treatment or mental health services to facilities that are equipped to provide those services. Jails are expensive and inefficient places to deliver health care.
The County is changing. in 2000, less than 20% of our County residents were people of color. Today, the percentage is almost 35%. In Upper Darby, our largest municipality and school district, over 60 languages are spoken. Yet, our County government does not reflect the community it serves. There is no public posting for jobs. While every job in the County must be filled by a County resident and jobs are going unfilled, the old word of mouth system--conducted largely through Republican party connections and family relationships--is the main source of applicants. The County workforce needs to expand its efforts to recruit from the community it serves, for leaders and for employees. Only by drawing on the experiences of people from different parts of the County can we serve all of the residents. We need to understand the challenges facing our communities of color, our immigrant communities where English may be a second language, communities facing long term environmental burdens from old industries that operated in a time without robust regulatory oversight, discrimination due to sexual orientation, gender identity or gender and the intractable problems of poverty. Understanding comes from including people who know the communities they serve. We must do a better job of recruiting people as employees and service providers and implement policies and training to insure that services are provided where they are needed most.
Delaware County has a large collection of authorities and commissions that are charged with economic development. In fact, it has more authorities and commissions than employees who include economic development and workforce development as the primary part of their job descriptions. In contrast, Chester County has an office of 20 people who are responsible for strategic planning to develop business. The 2017 Tax Cut and Jobs Act provided the County with some tools to attract investment to some of the areas that are most in need of investment. Opportunity zones in particular could be magnets for attracting capital to the City of Chester, Lansdowne and other municipalities with low and moderate census areas. What is the County doing to promote those opportunity zones? It is appropriate to look to the private sector to bring the jobs, but the County can enhance the environment for employers by helping to connect workers with training that employers need, by introducing strategic planning to drive prospective employers towards certain areas by coordinating infrastructure investments. It is critical that we partner with municipalities, employer groups and labor unions to build a workforce that has needed skills and can earn the kind of wages that can support a family. In a recent research report, Public Citizens for Children and Youth reported that Delaware County families are falling further behind. They made a series of recommendations focused on workforce development and support for working families. Much of that support, including child care and transportation services, can be provided through or with the support of the County government.
The County Government is responsible for dispensing hundreds of millions of dollars each year in federal and state grants for services that are generally included under the umbrella of Health Care and social services. In 2019, the Executive Director's proposed budget included $307,856,000 for services that include, or should include, health care services, whether they are focused on keeping children and seniors healthy, minimizing the devastating effects of addiction, supporting families with autism diagnosis, or maximizing educational opportunity through early intervention with children coping with learning differences or cognitive challenges. Yet there is no public health department. The County is the largest funder, and sometimes the only funder, for desperately needed behavioral health services. We should be demanding that our County government puts in place the expertise to make sure it is spending our federal and state money in the way that will give us all the best return on our investment. That means having the right kind of expertise and oversight in place.
Environment and Planning
Delco has long been a haven for developers. While our neighbors in Montgomery County and Chester County have sought to preserve land, Delaware County has been a friend to developers. The highly professional County Planning Department has often proposed plans that go nowhere and has commented negatively on plans that the County Council endorses. At a time when climate change is accentuating all of the problems of an aging sewer and storm water infrastructure and when the natural filters provided by trees and meadows are more important than ever, we need to focus on preserving key areas of open space and planning for transit and development that will recycle structures and reduce traffic and congestion. It means changing the way our Council sees development. Not all developments are good, no matter how many lawyers get paid in the process.