On February 15, 2018, Dr. Val Arkoosh, Chair of the Montgomery County Commissioners, delivered remarks on the state of the county:
"As we begin 2018, Montgomery County residents are served by a county government that is data-driven, transparent, and efficient. We measure our success in the vibrancy of our economy, the health of our communities and the thoroughness with which we meet the needs of the people we serve. By these measures, and many more, the state of Montgomery County is strong.
"As many of you remember, in 2012, our county faced a $10 million budget deficit, zero payments to the pension fund, and a depleted reserve fund. These numbers threatened to dismantle the many services that we provided to our constituents.
"Today, six years later, I am pleased to report that our county is on strong financial footing, due to years of focusing on strategic fiscal management. Fund reserves increased 70% over the past four years to $57 million; the General Fund finished with four consecutive surplus years and the 2018 projected budget surplus is $3.8 million. In recent years, the county has contributed $9 million annually to the pension fund, and our reserve fund is at a healthy 15% level. We’ve accomplished this while maintaining the lowest property tax rate among the four counties surrounding Philadelphia.
"The strength of the County’s fiscal recovery was validated last fall, when Moody’s Investors Service upgraded Montgomery County’s outlook to “positive” and reaffirmed its Aa1 bond rating, citing our strong fiscal management, multi-year budgeting, and long term capital planning as justification for this upgrade.
"Getting our fiscal house in order enables us to maintain a high level of county services while also planning for the future by making wise investments in economic and workforce development, repair our long-neglected county infrastructure, and invest in our employees.
"One new tool that we are employing will specifically support our data driven approach. The county has completed a strategic plan for implementing a Geographic Information System. This plan provides a roadmap to make county geographic information even more readily available to the public and give our county departments the data analysis tools they need to provide state-of-the-art services.
"We continue to partner with our local municipalities, businesses and non-profits to build on Montgomery County’s record of success. Today, our unemployment rate is lower than the state and national averages and even more people are moving into our county because of the high quality of life and economic opportunity we have to offer here.
"As a physician, I focus constantly on how our County can make healthy choices the easy choices. Our 7 parks, 4 historic sites, and over 90 miles of trails attracted 2.4 million visitors in 2017, a 21% increase from when I became Commissioner in 2015. Last year, we had more than 1500 participants in our popular Montco Trail Challenge, and I’m looking forward to launching 2018’s Challenge this spring.
"We are home to 70 farmers markets, farm stands, and nurseries, with more than 9,200 acres of preserved farmland. This year, the county is embarking on a new initiative aimed at improving connections between local farmers, small-scale food producers and local residents. Our Planning Commission (MCPC) is partnering on this initiative with the Montgomery County Health Department, Penn State Extension, the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC), and the Montgomery County Farm Bureau.
"Not only do we want our communities to be healthy – we are committed to making them safe. We are working closely with our 62 municipalities and 50 police departments on several important public safety projects that are launching this year. I am very pleased to report that we will complete the new county-wide public safety radio system in the first half of this year, providing enhanced coverage and capacity to our law enforcement, fire, and emergency management agencies. We will also activate our first law enforcement records management system to enhance criminal justice data information and intelligence sharing.
"Over the past year, our Department of Public Safety has employed new technologies to improve the health and safety of our residents.
"In May, the county launched the PulsePoint application to improve the chances of survival for people who go into sudden cardiac arrest. More than 2,000 CPR-trained people have downloaded the PulsePoint Respond app to their phone. Along with it, we launched the PulsePoint AED app, which our residents can use to easily register the locations of Automatic External Defibrillators. There are already over 300 AEDs registered in the database, thanks in large part to a high school scholarship contest generously sponsored by Simon’s Heart.[Isn’t this “Simon’s Fund”?}They changed their name to “Simon’s Heart” last month
"In September, we introduced Smart911. Our residents can use this free service to create a profile to provide important information about their home before there is an emergency – medical conditions & medicines, the number of people that live in a home, pets, emergency contacts – anything, really, that you would want emergency responders to know.
"Getting that help to our residents is something our Department of Public Safety does regularly. Our 9-1-1 call center fielded over 760,000 calls in 2017 and dispatched the police, fire and EMS response that was needed and, in some cases, talked residents through administering CPR or naloxone while waiting for the responders to arrive. In addition, our public safety department provides regular law enforcement trainings and our Fire Academy and EMS Institute serve as both a primary and ongoing educational resource for all of the fire, rescue and emergency medical service providers throughout Montgomery County.
"But we cannot talk about public safety without addressing one of the most dangerous issues facing communities across the country. Montgomery County is on the forefront of fighting the opioid epidemic. The county’s overdose task force has a coordinated, comprehensive approach to educate the public about all aspects of substance use disorder, increase awareness of extremely dangerous opioids, and provide resources for those in need.
"County data shows that our policies and initiatives are starting to work. Drug-related deaths increased 50%across the eight-county Philadelphia region during the first half of 2017, compared with the same period a year earlier. But here in Montgomery County, over that same time period, our drug-related deaths actually decreased 4%. We are still awaiting our final numbers from 2017 so this is by no means a victory lap, but it does show that our county identified the problem of opioid overdoses early and has been able to slowly but surely make a difference.
"I want to thank the hard working men and women in Montgomery County - in law enforcement, EMS, and health and human services - who are on the frontlines of fighting this disease every single day. I’m proud to note that all 50 police departments in the county are carrying the opioid overdose reversal drug Naloxone, and in 2017, our police alone administered Naloxone 367 times, resulting in 358 overdose reversals, or a 97% success rate. We also saw first time saves in 2017 in our Adult Probation department, and more of our county’s fire companies are also carrying Naloxone. Our Overdose Task Force has already held two of the four scheduled new Naloxone Education and Distribution events in partnership with the Health Department to distribute no-cost Naloxone kits to community members.
"I am particularly pleased at our success in bringing new resources to this fight. The Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency awarded Montgomery County two grants totaling $313,800 to help us in our fight against the opioid epidemic. The first grant has allowed us to distribute 137 boxes of Naloxone to police departments and human service providers throughout the county to date, with distribution ongoing.
"The second highly innovative PCCD grant has been awarded to the Montgomery County Correctional Facility to test the impact of enrolling a group of inmates in a medication assisted treatment program prior to release from the Correctional Facility and whether that will help prevent relapse or recidivism after these inmates return to the community.
"Our county also is fortunate to house two Centers of Excellence, the Montgomery County Recovery Center (Norristown) and Community Health and Dental Clinic (Pottstown). These Centers of Excellence, were created and funded by Governor Wolf to increase the availability of comprehensive treatment resources to individuals struggling with substance use disorder.
"In addition to focusing on this fight against the opioid epidemic, our Health and Human Services Department achieved the monumental goal of becoming fully integrated during 2017, providing a more streamlined network of services to all of our constituents. Our Community Connections Navicates helped nearly 10,000 county residents last year access the services and resources they needed.
"Your Way Home, the county’s public-private partnership to end homelessness, has reduced homelessness by 37% since it launched in 2014. The county also launched its first program to help tenants facing eviction, EPIC (Eviction Prevention and Intervention Coalition). This program is the result of a transformational partnership between Your Way Home, the Montgomery Bar Association and Foundation, and Legal Aid and will provide tenants with pro bono legal services and financial assistance to prevent evictions and stabilize their housing.
"As you have heard, each department of our county government works every day to improve the health, safety, and economic opportunities for all of our County residents. This is the work that you elect us to do. It is, therefore, of fundamental importance that the county continues to maintain the long-term security of our voting system.
"Toward that end, we will be purchasing new voting machines this year. With 425 polling places requiring new equipment this is no small undertaking and I am proud of and want to thank our staff who are working tirelessly to accomplish this goal by the end of this year.
"We need your input to accomplish this goal and are inviting the public to an Open House on Saturday, February 24th at the Montgomery County Community College’s Health Sciences Center Gym. We will have voting machine vendors on site with machines that have been certified, or are currently in the process of being certified, for use in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. We are looking forward to your input as we take this important step toward purchasing the most secure and user-friendly voting machines that include a paper ballot.
"These are just some of the examples of the forward-thinking, data-driven approaches that your county government uses to tackle the complex issues facing our residents. I am grateful for and want to thank our dedicated employee workforce. Our entire county family is committed to meeting the needs of our constituents each and every day. I am proud to declare the state of our county is strong. I remain committed to always looking forward with the goal of keeping our county a safe, healthy, inclusive, and vibrant place for people to live, work, and visit."