Last fall, residents after a preliminary version of the 2012 operating budget proposed the elimination of the county's parks department, among other drastic funding cuts. That Board of Commissioners eventually passed a budget that hiked property taxes by 17.5 percent and kept the Parks and Heritage Services department intact.
Thursday morning, Montgomery County Commissioner Josh Shapiro announced that the department had been eliminated, after all. Parks and Heritage will soon cease to exist. The same goes for the Public Property department and the department of Roads and Bridges.
In their place will be a single, new department: Infrastructure and Public Assets.
"The system that we inherited here in county government was a system of siloed and stovepiped departments. This new format of consolidating these three departments into one allows for a synergy across those departments," Shapiro said.
The new department will be led by Kenneth Starr, who was hired Monday with an annual salary of $100,000. Starr, who lives in Havertown, Delaware County, was previously the Special Assistant to the Regional Administrator for the Philadelphia office of the federal government's General Services Administration. Starr was appointed to that position by the White House in February 2011. He previously worked in public finance and government relations for the O'Neill Properties Group in King of Prussia.
"He was basically the number two guy at the Philadelphia office of the GSA," Shapiro said.
The heads of the consolidated departments will now report to Starr. Ronald Ahlbrandt and Donald Colosimo, who respectively led the Parks and Roads departments, will be deputy directors in the new department. Their annual salaries were reduced from $79,007 and $76,808 to $72,000. Mary Indiveri, who was in charge of Public Property, also becomes a deputy director reporting to Starr. She received a raise from $64,141 to $72,000.
"A law firm for the 21st century"
Other new personnel joining the county government this week included four new full-time solicitors, who will report to county solicitor Ray McGarry. Eric Cox, Sharon Glogowski, Rebecca Mainor, and David Robinson are the latest the join an office that has been almost completely turned over since the new county administration took over in January. Each will earn $75,000 per year.
Shapiro said that when the current administration took office, it inherited a solicitor's office heavily staffed with "part time solicitors who were totally not qualified for the work they were doing."
Commissioner Bruce Castor called the changes in the solicitor's department "a big deal" and said he approved of McGarry's efforts to create what Castor called "a law firm for the 21st century."
"The solicitor's office is a law firm that provides legal advice to a government that has a budget of a half-billion dollars a year. It has its fingers in every possible civil connotation that could contact the county, whether somebody's injured on the job or has an employment issue or sues us for a contract issue … the fact that we are going in the direction of professionalizing that office is a huge step forward," Castor said.
Six part-time solicitors will be terminated between Friday and the end of the month. Another two part-timers have resigned since the end of April.
"Many of the people who are [leaving] are personal friends, I've known them for many years," Castor said. "But we need to turn that office into an office with experts in various fields, whether it be labor law, securities, litigation, whatever it is. Under the last administration, I often felt like I was the only lawyer who knew was what going on around here, and I am not versed in these sorts of things."
An additional solicitor, Nicole Forzato, will transfer into McGarry's department in early June from the county courts, where she is employed as an assistant solicitor at $48,495 per year.
McGarry said that by the end of May, his office will include eight full-time solicitors and no part-timers.
"This is a major league upgrade," Shapiro said.