By Matt Carey
NORRISTOWN - In her first state of the county address since taking over as chairwoman of the Montgomery County commissioners, Valerie Arkoosh painted a rosy picture of the recent performance and future of the county.
"I am proud to declare that the state of our county is strong," Arkoosh said "And the prognosis for the future is bright."
In her speech, Arkoosh highlighted areas where the county has seen tangible successes in areas where the administration has prioritized investments, including the repair or replacement of structurally deficient bridges.
The county approved a $5 increase to vehicle registration fees in 2016, which Arkoosh said will allow the county to repair or replace an additional eight bridges this year, bringing this year's total budgeted bridge projects to 34.
Arkoosh also spoke of a desire to leave the county's infrastructure in better shape than it was when Josh Shapiro and Leslie Richards took over as the board of commissioners' Democratic majority in 2012. Arkoosh succeeded Richards on the board when Richards became state transportation secretary in 2015 and Shapiro was sworn in as Pennsylvania's attorney general in January.
"For years, prior administrations put Band-Aids on problems that needed a long-term strategy and investment," Arkoosh said. "Looking ahead, that fee will allow the county to keep our bridges and roads in a state of good repair so that future administrations are not saddled with the backlog of preventable problems that this administration inherited."
After the meeting, Joe Gale, the lone Republican commissioner, addressed some issues he felt needed improvement, including general concerns about county spending after back-to-back years of near-10 percent property tax increases.
"It's important to take the rose-colored glasses off and point out areas we can improve," Gale said. "From what I've seen over last year and moving into this year, one area we can concentrate on and be extra diligent is when it comes to spending tax dollars."
"I think this shows just a fundamental philosophical difference between Commissioner Gale and I," Arkoosh said in response, comparing Gale's conservative approach to that of the prior administrations. "I don't believe that I was elected to continue to kick a problem down the road when it will only be more expensive and more complicated to solve."
During her speech, Arkoosh also announced that all 49 municipal police departments either are currently or will soon be equipped with the opioid overdose-reversal drug naloxone. The number of departments equipped with the antidote has been steadily increasing since the county district attorney's office began providing it at no cost to Montgomery County municipalities in 2015, using drug forfeiture funds.
Arkoosh said that between police and emergency medical services, more than 700 lives were saved thanks to naloxone use in 2016 in Montgomery County.