From the Times Herald, 2/15/2018:
NORRISTOWN >> The state of Montgomery County is strong. That was the prevailing message the county commissioners relayed in their annual state of the county presentations at Thursday’s meeting at One Montgomery Plaza.
Commission Chair Dr. Val Arkoosh began the address by explaining the county’s metrics for success: a vibrant economy, healthy communities and the effectiveness with which the county meets the needs of its citizens.
She began by harkening back to 2012, when the county faced a $10 million budget deficit, was making no payments to the pension fund, and had a depleted reserve fund.
Now, Arkoosh said, the county is on “strong financial footing” through the administration’s focus on strategic fiscal management.
“Fund reserves increased 70 percent over the past four years to $57 million. The general fund finished with four consecutive surplus years, and the 2018 projected surplus is $3.8 million,” she reported.
Arkoosh said the county has contributed $9 million annually to the pension fund in recent years and has a reserve fund of a “healthy” 15 percent.
“We’ve accomplished this while maintaining the lowest property tax rate among the four counties surrounding Philadelphia,” asserted Arkoosh, adding that the stable and growing economy led Moody’s Investors Services to bestow a AA1 bond rating and upgrade the county’s outlook to “positive.”
Adding to the strong state of the county is the relatively low unemployment rate, which sits below the state and national averages, and the county’s growing population, a development Arkoosh attributed to burgeoning economic opportunities and the high quality of life enjoyed by county residents.
Arkoosh made special mention of the health and wellness initiatives the county has enacted over the years, noting that 2.4 people visited Montgomery County parks, trails and historic sites in 2017— a 21 percent increase from the number of visitors when she first became commissioner in 2015.
She also touted several of the county’s new and developing initiatives and services, including the Geographic Information System which will make county geographic information more available to the public and give county departments the data analysis tools they need to better provide services; a new program that aims to improve connections between local food producers, grocers and residents; a new law enforcement records management system; and the forthcoming completion of the county-wide public safety radio system which promises to provide enhanced coverage and capacity to first responders.
Commissioner Ken Lawrence took the baton from Arkoosh to discuss the county’s infrastructure projects. Beginning with the renovation of the hub of the county seat at One Montgomery Plaza and the larger 10-year county campus renovation, Lawrence said the plan to improve the courthouse and surrounding government properties will result in “a new modern justice center, and a safer more attractive and efficient workspace for county employees, residents and new businesses in Norristown.”
On transportation, Lawrence spoke of the ongoing effort to maintain the 130 county-owned bridges and 75 miles of county-owned roads. He said there were 62 structurally deficient bridges in the county in 2012, and since then, 18 have been fixed and 33 are currently slated for repair.
In addition, Lawrence noted that $1 million raised from motor vehicle registration fees have gone toward funding for PennDot’s Greenlight Go program to assist municipalities in accessing state funds for traffic signals and equipment upgrades — a contribution that will continue in years to come.
And he lauded the turnpike corridor reinvestment project, which encompasses turnpike improvements between Valley Forge and Willow Grove, for already starting to bear fruit by providing new interchanges that have spurred commercial investment.
An integral part of the overall vision is this year’s work on Phase 3 of the Lafayette Street Extension Project in Norristown, which Lawrence called “the largest local infrastructure project in the commonwealth.”
Last but certainly not least, he mentioned the King of Prussia Rail project, which recently cleared a hurdle to becoming reality when SEPTA’s board approved the adoption of a recommended locally preferred alternative, paving the way for the formulation of a final environmental impact statement.
Commissioner Joe Gale’s state of the county comments focused on commerce.
He started off with some statistics breaking down the county’s four largest industries:
• Montgomery County boasts 77,795 healthcare employees at 3,660 health care establishments, which is the third highest concentration of healthcare employees in the state behind Philadelphia and Allegheny counties.
• The county has 56,327 employees in the retail industry working at 3,145 retail establishments, which is second in the state — more than in Philadelphia but less than Allegheny County.
• Professional and technical services provide 55,435 jobs at 4,111 establishments — again, third highest in the state.
• Montgomery County is number one in the state in manufacturing, with an impressive 44,398 jobs in that sector.
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