The review was requested after an Inquirer examination of the leases revealed that the county paid significantly more than market rates for many of its district justice offices, and that many of the leases were awarded to people who donated to the Republican Party or to Republican candidates.
Commissioners Chairman Mario Mele said yesterday that many of the leases were negotiated before he and his colleagues took office in 1992, but that since then the county had reduced payments by $175,000, renegotiating down as leases expired.
Montgomery County is the only county in the Philadelphia region that does not advertise for office space, but the committee recommended - and the commissioners agreed - that advertising should be used hereafter to obtain the most suitable and cost-effective locations.
Among the report's other recommendations regarding new leases:
* Lease negotiations should begin a minimum of 90 days before the agreed-upon notice of termination.
* Acceptable prices per square foot may be no more than 10 percent above market values, as listed in Black's Guide or quoted by area Realtors.
* A list of all current district justice office sites and lease-expiration dates should be posted on Montgomery County's Web site at http://www.montcopa.org and published in newspaper legal notices each January.
``They did a very comprehensive job, and I think the report was very objective and professional,'' Mele said.
The report does not, however, address what the commissioners should do about existing leases that are above market prices.
One property that seems to fall into that category, the commissioners agreed, is the Abington space at 1440 Old York Rd. that serves as District Justice Joseph Dougherty's court.
The commissioners are paying $32.46 per square foot for the property; area Realtors told The Inquirer last year that the going rate in Abington was $15 to $18 a square foot. The county leases the property from a company owned by John Gambone, a well-known Republican contributor. The lease does not expire until June 30, 2001.
Doris Davis, director of district justice administration, said that she had met, unsuccessfully, with two landlords with long-term leases, hoping to persuade them to agree to lower the previously negotiated rents in exchange for extension of the leases.
She would not say with which two landlords she had met.
The commissioners said they would ask to meet with those landlords to see whether they could come to terms.
Hoeffel and Commissioner Richard S. Buckman said they believed that if landlords refused to renegotiate their leases early, the county should refuse to do business with them after the leases' expiration.
``I'd be willing to say if they don't listen to reason, we should be able to say bye-bye,'' said Buckman. ``There is no use in our trying to negotiate with them now if we don't have a hammer.''
Mele was unwilling to make such a commitment.
``I want to sit down and talk with them first,'' said Mele. ``We'll see what happens from there.''