SPRINGFIELD >> Delaware County leaders addressed the “ever-changing landscapes” of all facets of county living in its annual “State of the County” address.
Delaware County Council Chairman John McBlain gave the report at the Springfield Country Club Thursday afternoon, detailing economic development prospects, county finances, the property reassessment process, open spaces and even the historic change in party leadership in the county.
“Every year we present a state of the county address that seeks to be positive and optimistic about our past and future accomplishments,” said McBlain. “That’s because we have a lot to be proud of as a county.”
A bulk of McBlain’s address was given to new development and business prospects on the horizon. Even after the county’s failed bid to make the shortlist for Amazon HQ2 to set up in Chester, McBlain said the diverse and skilled work force has been beneficial in bringing the following projects to the county:
n The re-development of the Granite Run Mall site by BET Investments that will include a town center setup with shops, restaurants and a new movie theater. Panera Bread and Chipotle have already opened at the location;
n A state-of-the-art facility at Wawa’s Red Roof headquarters in Chester Heights will open this month;
n Equus Capital’s Shops at Ellis Preserve in Newtown Square has included a 138-room Hilton Garden hotel with a ballroom and a slate of stores and restaurants that have already opened. Phase 1 of the Shops at Ellis Preserve will be rounded out with a Whole Food grocery store and townhouses and apartments opening in the fall;
n The Drexeline Shopping Center in Upper Darby is looking to be redeveloped by MCB Real Estate for up to $120 million that will employ a town center concept to improve the economic vitality of the community;
n Close to Drexeline is the Drexelbrook complex that has a hotel being built on the property next to the Drexelbrook Special Events Venue that is scheduled to open this summer;
n In Media, residential developments and apartment complexes are at or nearing completion. The West End Walk townhouse community on the west end of the borough is sold out while the Hampton Inn Hotel on the east end of the borough ready to open in August;
n Boeing, the largest county employer, is undergoing an $85 million renovation of its Ridley Township facilities for a 300,000-square foot production building and 50,000 square feet of office space to be completed next year;
n The new Ridley Township Public Library and Memorial Library of Radnor will be opening at the end of the month following renovation/expansion projects.
With a lot of construction going on in the county, and coupled with the Office of Workforce Development and re-entry program, the county unemployment rate is at 4.4 percent, below the national average of 4.8 percent.
“Everywhere you go in our county, including in our county seat, you see buildings going up, apartments and townhomes opening, new hotels, boosting tourism, and most importantly, connecting people with jobs,” said McBlain.
Delaware County Chamber of Commerce President Trish McFarland said the economic development in the county is exciting because of the great things happening for the business sector.
“The more economic development that we have, the stronger it is for our residents,” said McFarland. “Businesses want to relocate here because of all of the great things happening.”
McBlain said the county’s economic success is a factor contributing to the county maintaining a credit rating of Aa1 from Moody’s Investors service and AA from Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services. Moody’s has reported that the median family income in the county is 125 percent of the U.S. level which is good for economic development.
For four consecutive years the county has passed budgets without a tax increase with a projection that 2017 will end in a surplus from a $650 million budget.
“Like all businesses and government, except for, perhaps, Amazon,” McBlain joked, “we face financial challenges, but we are committed to serving our residents and to providing excellent services without increasing the tax burden on our residents.”
On the issues of county taxes, McBlain said the court-ordered property reassessment project on more than 200,000 county parcels will not raise additional money for the county, but that reassessment more fairly redistributes the tax burden for school, municipal and county real estate taxes. The reassessment will also ensure a “stable and favorable” environment for the job growth in the county said McBlain.
Reassessment is currently underway by Tyler Technologies and county council will hold public meetings and updates until the project is finished.
With almost 9,000 acres of open space and park land in the county there is support to keeping investing in these areas. Grants have been award for a number of projects to enhance green spaces including one to expand the Darby Creek Trail in Upper Darby and Lansdowne. Construction on phase one of the trail project started last summer with engineering work for phase two beginning to extend from Kent Park in Upper Darby to Gateway Trail in Lansdowne. Further expansion has been in the talks to extend beyond the trail to the Drexeline Shopping Center.
A $416,000 grant will complete the second phase of the Chester Creek Trail to extend another 1.5 miles through Aston Township crossing over Dutton Mills Road and ending at Bridgewater Road.
A grant has also been awarded to study the Media-Smedley Connector trail that runs from Mineral Hill to Smedley Park.
After one failed attempt by a developer to do something with the 213-acre tract of land of the former Don Guanella Village in Marple, Carlino Commercial Development has entered in an agreement of sale with the Archdiocese of Philadelphia for the property, the county hoping to preserve 175 acres as open space. The county has applied for a $2 million grant for this endeavor which it will match if awarded.
Following decades of Republican stronghold on county-level leadership, this was the first address with a noted Democratic presence following the party’s near sweep in the 2017 elections. With Kevin Madden and Brian Zidek becoming the first Democrats to serve on council and the three row offices going to Democrats – controller, register of wills and sheriff – McBlain noted the historic shift of party representation and how any affect it has had on the functioning of the government.
“I am proud to say that over the past four months county council has made a great deal of progress, serving as a collective, bipartisan group, working on behalf of our residents,” McBlain said. “We have all worked well together and we hope those who interact with county government in 2018 will say that we have not missed a bear, and, hopefully, that some fresh perspectives will bring improvement to our county government.”
One area that has been implemented is video recording of council meetings and more postings on council’s website with meeting agendas. This was suggested by a committee lead by council Vice Chairman Colleen Morrone and Madden.
“Over the past several months, we have made much progress, and together we have covered a lot of ground and issues, fueled by the public’s renewed interest in county government,” said McBlain.