After finding a new office space for the soon-to-be-established county health department, the Delaware County Council agreed to pay 41 percent more than the property was advertised for.
Last September, the county council unanimously approved the lease on a retail space in a strip mall at 125 Chester Ave. in Yeadon.
Broad + Liberty obtained a copy of the five-year lease via a Right-to-Know request. It showed the county paying $16.00 per square foot in the first year, and increases of about 33 cents per square foot in each of the remaining four years.
An online listing from the Zommick McMahon Commercial Real Estate website, however, shows the space was being advertised for $7.50 a square foot, with an additional $3.82 to cover taxes, insurance and maintenance for common areas — putting the net advertised price at $11.32 per square foot.
Comparing the difference between the advertised price and what the county agreed to pay, the county may have overpaid by about $52,000 in the first year, and a quarter of a million over the combined five years.
The county may have overpaid by about $52,000 in the first year, and a quarter of a million over the combined five years.
A spokesperson for the county defended the agreed-upon price.
“The County rent is ‘all in’ and includes all common area maintenance, taxes, utilities, etc. (The County, for planning and budgeting purposes, prefers “all-in” costs for its leased space),” said Ryan Herlinger, a public relations officer with Delaware County.
“In addition, the space leased by the County had high-requirement electrical service in place (it was a former supermarket) which was of value to the County, and distinguishes the County space from what is listed on the web site.”
The county has faced spending issues on other fronts.
The county controller also pushed back on many salary increases the county council approved in the latter half of 2020.
For example, in December, Controller JoAnne Phillips told the county that the proposed salary for a “commerce position” seemed excessive.
“A comparison of this level of compensation to our other directors who shoulder a lot of responsibility will reveal that this is a huge increase and great expense to the taxpayers,” she told the personnel committee.
“The salaries approved by the Personnel Board over the last six months are appropriately aligned with both the results of the study and the County’s approved 2021 budget, which did not raise taxes,” county spokeswoman Adrienne Marofsky said.
Even though the county is still in the process of formally standing up its own health department, it is already using the space as a wellness center offering Covid-19 vaccinations.
‘A comparison of this level of compensation to our other directors who shoulder a lot of responsibility will reveal that this is a huge increase and great expense to the taxpayers.’
Getting the property ready cost the county another $800,000 which included “purchases of furniture, fixtures and equipment, required for the new Health Department, which can be moved to any future Health Department location,” Herlinger explained. “All funds expended were CARES Act dollars provided by the federal government, to address the pandemic.”
The county looked at properties in Springfield Square and a former supermarket in Primos, Herlinger added.
But he says the Yeadon property fit the bill because, “The County needed immediately available space, in a focused portion of the County, that was accessible to public transportation, that included at least 10,000 square feet, and had utility capability for the high-requirement freezers required for the covid vaccines.”
All five members of the unanimously Democrat council campaigned on creating a county health department. According to a proposed timeline, the official launch should come in January of 2022, even though many activities of the department will be underway before that.
The county is still trying to smooth out the many issues related to establishing a new health department.
At a recent “listening session” with the county council, many restaurant and business owners expressed anxiety about some of the upcoming changes.
“Just to be clear: The county wants to take over food inspections, but they don’t know how much they’re going to charge and they don’t know what they’re going to inspect,” asked Glenolden borough manager Brian Razzi during the meeting reported on by Delaware Valley Journal.
“That’s the message we’re supposed to take back to our businesses?”
For the county health department, the remainder of 2021 will be spent launching “initial operations…with key staff providing required services.”
Todd Shepherd is Broad + Liberty’s chief investigative reporter. Send him tips at tshepherd at broadandliberty.com, or use his encrypted email at shepherdreports at protonmail.com.