Taxpayers, College Students at Odds Over Tax Increase Proposal in Montgomery County - NBC 10 Philadelphia
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Taxpayers, College Students at Odds Over Tax Increase Proposal in Montgomery County

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    Taxpayers, College Students at Odds Over Tax Increase Proposal in Montgomery County
    Provided: Montgomery County
    Montgomery County Commissioners Joe Gale, Val Arkoosh and Josh Shapiro, left to right, during a ceremony in September. The relationship between Democrats Arkoosh and Shapiro and Republican Gale has deteriorated in 2016.

    Peter Gerbert, a Blue Bell resident, took to the podium Thursday after a handful of students and workers at the Montgomery County Community College spoke about a proposed funding increase for their school.

    One of the students had said the college "doesn't make you feel like a number" in lauding the school experience.

    Gerbert said the feeling he got these days as a county taxpayer was the exact opposite.

    "Unfortunately, as taxpayers, if everyone feels as much as me, I feel like a number," he told the county commissioners during a public hearing on the 2017 proposed budget that would raise taxes 11 percent. "It's fiscal insanity to raise taxes 21 percent in two years."

    Most of the residents who spoke assailed the proposed $409 million spending plan that comes on the heels of a 2016 budget that raised taxes nearly 10 percent.

    But the audience gathered to address Commissioners Val Arkoosh, Joe Gale and Josh Shapiro also included a contingent of about 25 advocates for the county college. In the budget is $22 million for a separate fund to the college -- an increase of about $4 million over its current funding from county coffers.

    Democrats Arkoosh and Shapiro, who is resigning this month to become Pennsylvania Attorney General, have touted the college funding as an important piece of the budget. The increase would stave off increases to tuition in the near future and bring the county close to an even share of financial support with state funding and revenue from classes and operations, Arkoosh has said.

    Student Quinton Gibson, a Willow Grove resident, was among those in the audience that thanked the commissioners for the proposed funding.

    "I'm not from this area and there's a reason I moved here," Gibson said. The college is a "very significant reason."

    Republican Gale has railed against the overall budget because of the accompanying tax increase.

    Before the public hearing, Shapiro and Arkoosh squared off with Gale in a meeting with reporters.

    Gale called for an "across the board" cut to county department budgets, but when he couldn't identify any cuts, Arkoosh accused Gale of having "not been engaged in the work" of building the budget.

    "Commissioner Gale is not in the office that often, so he may not be aware of the hours and hours of work put in," she said.

    Gale denied the notion that he isn't in the office or a part of the budget process.

    Shapiro said of Gale that "it is easy to sit here and pontificate and make up things."

    But the numbers show, Shapiro said, that "the (county) government is smaller than it was the day we walked in here."

    The bitter tone between the Democrats and the Republican has built through the summer and early fall. Gale often used commissioners' meetings to question Shapiro's record and political connections. Then, more recently, Gale ran a political advertisement leading up to the November election that attacked Shapiro, who at the time was running against Republican candidate John Rafferty, a state senator from Montgomery County.

    On Thursday, Shapiro called Gale's actions "unethical," considering Gale is a member of the county Elections Board.

    Shapiro prodded Gale to introduce his own budget that would not increase taxes and Shapiro would happily debate that proposed budget. The Republican declined to say whether he would take Shapiro up on the offer.

    Gale did say, without providing specific examples, "I find it ridiculous that we have an over $400 million budget and there is no waste in our government."

    The commissioners have scheduled a final vote on the budget for Dec. 15. The tax increase would fund $18 million in new spending, as the 2017 budget would increase to $409 million from $391 million last year. The owner of a property at the county average assessment of $169,000 would pay $66 more in taxes.

    Arkoosh said the commissioners would listen to taxpayers who spoke at the public hearing and weigh their opinions about spending.

    Bruce Enwisle, a businessman from Ambler, opposed the tax increase. He said he didn't appreciate how the debate has been framed about the county paying "its fair share" to the county college.

    "Half of my productivity goes to the government," he said of his income. "Enough!"

    The proposed 2017 budget as well as the current budget is available on the Montgomery County website. Click HERE for a direct link to the county's finance page.