By Charles Thompson
POTTSTOWN, PA - Montgomery County's three-member governing board made a stop in Pottstown Monday night as part of its annual "Conversations with Commissioners" series.
The county commissioners, Democrats Josh Shapiro and Dr. Valerie Arkoosh and Republican Joe Gale, spoke at Montgomery County Community College's West Campus.
"There were many people in this community who felt, correctly so, that the county wasn't engaged enough," board Chairman Shapiro said. "Just to watch over the last number of years, the relationships, trust, confidence evolve. It's really something special."
The commissioners spoke to area residents and local government officials about some of the financial progress the county has made, including a 9 percent reduction in the county's operating expenses since 2012, and maintenance of a reserve fund that Shapiro said helped the county continue to fund programs during the state budget impasse. Montgomery County's reserve fund was $40.6 million at the end of 2015.
"We dipped into our very healthy reserve fund and we spent that down pretty significantly while we were awaiting the state money to come in," Shapiro said. "And then ultimately, when it finally passed nine months later and we got all that money back, we were able to replenish it back into our reserve account."
One topic of local interest that the commissioners updated residents on was the progress of the Keim Street Bridge, which joins Pottstown and North Coventry and has been closed since 2010.
"It's been a very complicated project," Arkoosh said. "It's a historic bridge, and when you have a historic bridge, it requires a whole lot of extra steps before it can be fixed or replaced."
Arkoosh said the project will be funded 80 percent with federal monies, 15 percent with state funds and 5 percent from county coffers. She said preliminary engineering is underway on the project, and is expected to be completed next year.
"The plan is that there will be construction actually starting in 2019 and it will take 18 months to build it," Arkoosh said. "By sometime in 2020, I think with a fair degree of certainty at this point, that bridge will be done."
"I am so bullish on Pottstown and the Pottstown area," Shapiro said. "It's a key part of our economy, our housing, and the economic engine that drives our economy."