Pattye Benson

Community Matters

Montgomery County

What would General George Washington think about casino gambling in his backyard?

I drove through Valley Forge National Historic Park, enjoying the weather and the beautiful autumn colors of the trees. I was remembering General Washington and his Continental Army from 1777-78 as I exited the park onto Gulph Road by Rt. 422. With thoughts of the Revolutionary War in my mind, I turned the corner to see construction signs for the Valley Forge Casino Resort.

At a cost of $100 million, the new resort casino is scheduled to open in the spring of 2012. Apparently, the casino will create 500 permanent jobs and is expected to add many tourist and business dollars to the local coffers. Advertised as ‘world-class’, the casino will be housed in the Valley Forge Convention Center and feature 50 table games and 600 of the ‘most popular’ slot machines. Construction is currently underway to convert 40,000 square feet of the convention center into the casino.

By spring, our tourist and business travelers can tour Valley Forge National Historic Park, shop at the King of Prussia Mall and gamble at the casino resort. The architect for the project is Cope Linder Architects who designed the Borgata in Atlantic City. The architects will create a gaming space with high ceilings and design with feng-shui influence – sorry, not even this planned high-style design is selling me.

I have not heard any mention of infrastructure improvements as a result of the casino. My guess is that because the owners of the Valley Forge Convention Center are utilizing the existing footprint, additional improvements for road and traffic issues may not be a requirement for the land development project. So maybe it is incorrect of me to suggest that the planned resort casino will add to the existing traffic problems of Routes 23, 422 and 202 in the King of Prussia area. Maybe a casino will not add any more cars on the road than the convention center.

I saw an advertisement in the Pottstown Mercury newspaper that caused me pause. If you are a local college student that is looking for a new career path, apparently the Montgomery County Community College has partnered with the Valley Forge Casino Resort to train potential job candidates in the art of ‘card dealing’. Although employment at the casino is not guaranteed, the college course will teach you everything you need to know to become a dealer in the exciting casino world. Guess the saying, “if you play your cards right” has real meaning in this case! The country’s economy and lack of jobs coupled with promises of a lucrative, exciting life will probably encourage some of our Pennsylvania college age kids in the direction of casinos as a career path.

Bottom line for me . . . something just seems so wrong about a glitzy resort casino juxtaposed to the Valley Forge National Historic Park. I accept that many jobs will be created and additional revenue will help the local economy but I don’t think anyone can argue that a resort casino will forever change our landscape. I am not a gambler so maybe that is the major reason that I am saddened by this local construction project. I would be curious to know what others think of a casino in our backyard.

Montgomery County’s 2011 Budget Will Require ‘Radical Changes’ – Is this Handwriting on the Wall for Chester County, and Specifically Tredyffrin Township?

I just read the following in Norristown’s Times Herald referencing radical changes needed by Montgomery County government to either drastically cut expenses or increase revenue to fill the $22.5 million funding gap expected in their 2011 budget.

OK, I know that we are not in Montgomery County; and I understand that this is county government vs. township government. But is it possible that the crisis facing our neighboring county’s budget for 2011 could be similarly recognized in Chester County, . . . and then ultimately Tredyffrin?

I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to suggest a correlation between Montgomery and Chester County government funding issues. We can only hope that Chester County does not face the enormity of the budget gap for 2011 as forecasted by Montgomery County.

There have been recent comments on Community Matters that Tredyffrin’s 2011 budget can (and some have suggested, should) wait until later in the year for discussion. From my vantage point, postponing township 2011 budget discussion until November or December is short-sighted and not fiscally responsible.

In my opinion, a mid-year discussion of 2010 budget (expenses and revenues to-date) and forecasting for the 2011 budget is a fiduciary responsibility. My desire for a public 2010/11 township budget discussion is not about Warren Kampf’s political campaign or for that matter, ‘party politics’. This country, state, county, and yes, Tredyffrin Township are struggling with finances — so instead of suggesting that supervisors and residents just wait until November or December for budget analysis, I would simply ask why wait?

By July of last year, the BAWG committee was well underway in their 2010 budget meetings. Shouldn’t we review where we are with BAWG’s 2010 recommendations . . . have all the cost-saving suggestions been implemented? I don’t know, but maybe if we started discussing the township budget situation now, there would still be time in the 2010 calendar year to correct or to implement some of the BAWG recommendations. I just don’t understand how putting off the budget discussion helps anyone?

Times Herald Staff

COURTHOUSE — With economy still in the grips of a slowdown, Montgomery County government has to cut expenses or raise revenue to fill a $22.5 million funding gap for the 2011 budget, and officials are expected to discuss shrinking the size of government.

In a June letter to the commissioners from Chief Financial Officer Randy K. Schaible, the county can’t count on transferring funds as it did this year. For the 2010 budget, the county used $8 million from its capital reserve fund for the general fund.

Schaible said borrowing will increase the county’s debt service in next year’s budget. The county borrowed $35 million for open space in March 2010, which will push up debt by $2 million per year. As well, the government is expected to borrow for capital spending, which includes the recent prison expansion, and that will cost $4 million a year in debt service.

At the commissioners meeting Wednesday, Deputy Chief Operating Officer James Maza said officials would ask departments to draw up a proposed no-growth and no-tax budgets, and to avoid raising taxes could mean a 9 percent cut in departmental expenditures “across the board.”

“This gap contemplates that we’re going to have to make some radical changes from previous budget decision making,” he said. “We understand that’s going to call into question downsizing both the function and the size of government,” Maza said.

Also, in order to meet pensions, the county is considering issuing pension obligation bonds to fund the $20 million contribution, he said.

A major concern is state grant funding. Schaible estimates Pennsylvania is behind by $1 billion in its budget. Recently, Congress voted against sending more than $800 in Medicaid payments to the state. Officials hope the Obama administration will reconsider restoring the aid.

In December 2010, the commissioners voted 2-1 to adopt a $407.7 million budget and managed to avoid a tax increase. Commissioners’ Chairman Jim R. Matthews and Vice Chairman Joseph M. Hoeffel voted in favor; Commissioner Bruce L. Castor, Jr. voted against the spending plan.

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