COLLEGEVILLE — Maintaining Montgomery County’s financials and services were priorities the commissioners outlined as they were sworn in for the 2020 term during a ceremony Monday morning at Ursinus College.
“Well, first and foremost we have to keep our fiscal solvency,” Commissioner Kenneth Lawrence Jr. said in an interview following the ceremony.
Commissioner Valerie Arkoosh agreed and highlighted several financial accomplishments from the previous term.
“During the last four years, our administration has restored fiscal stability, regained the county’s [AAA] bond rating and passed three consecutive budgets without a tax increase,” Arkoosh said during the ceremony.
Later in the day Monday during a reorganization meeting, Arkoosh and Lawrence were unanimously elected as chair and vice chair. It is Arkoosh’s second and Lawrence’s first full term. The two Democrats won re-election with large margins in November.
County finances are also a big priority for Republican Commissioner Joseph Gale.
Gale called himself a “fiscal watchdog for the taxpayers of Montgomery County” when referring to the roughly $400 million operating budget.
“I think every step of the way we must make sure we’re fiscally responsible about that cost,” Gale said.
Arkoosh and Lawrence said they’d like to tackle several issues including food insecurity, homelessness and the opioid crisis.
According to Lawrence, there are more than 100,000 people experiencing food insecurity in Montgomery County on a daily basis.
"I tried living on SNAP benefits for one week, and I can’t imagine doing it every day of my life,” Lawrence said.
Arkoosh said the county is working on initiatives to limit these issues. She referenced “Your Way Home,” an organization that works to reduce area homelessness, and “Stepping Up Program,” which aims to reduce incarceration rates.
Arkoosh and Lawrence also agreed that the new justice center in Norristown is another priority for this new term. The facility would house the county positions and courts, according to Lawrence.
“It’s a huge project and we have to make sure we get it right,” Lawrence said.
Additionally, the 2020 Census and the upcoming election were key points that Arkoosh said she’d like to focus on during this term.
She stressed the importance of working to get Montgomery residents counted and added that lack of participation could be detrimental.
“We have calculated that if we miss just 5 percent of the people here in Montgomery County, we stand to lose approximately $72 million a year for the next 10 years in federal funding,” Arkoosh said.
As for the 2020 election, Arkoosh said she’d like to ensure everyone is on the same page with recent voter legislation signed into law by Gov. Tom Wolf.
“So our staff is going to be very busy and very focused on making sure that we fully implement the new law and making sure voters understand that they have more time to register to vote, that they’ll be able to vote by mail in 2020,” she said.
She also urged people to get to the polls for the primary and general elections.
“If you don’t vote, don’t complain to me, I do not want to hear it,” Arkoosh said. “So we need to make sure that everybody votes.”
Gale pointed out that there are ideological differences between himself and his fellow commissioners.
“I happen to be the only registered Republican that took the oath of office today, so it’s easy to say I’m outnumbered on the stage,” Gale said.
Gale added that his governing style could benefit the more than 800,000 residents in the county.
“I tend to disrupt the system, shake things up. I’m outspoken, but I take that role very seriously and that’s exactly why the residents of Montgomery County put me into office,” Gale said. “And I will continue to do that during my second term as commissioner.”
Despite any differences in opinions, Lawrence stressed the importance of having a constructive working relationship with his fellow legislators over the next four years.
“I believe we are all here to make the best decisions for the citizens of Montgomery County, and I still believe we can disagree without being disagreeable and ultimately the citizens of Montgomery County want us to work together for their good,” Lawrence said.
In addition to the three commissioners, the following officials were sworn in during the ceremony: Lori Schreiber as the clerk of courts; Karen Meredith Sanchez as the controller; Michael Milbourne as the coroner; Kevin R. Steele as the district attorney; Noah Marlier as the prothonotary, or chief clerk; Jeanne Sorg as the recorder of deeds; D. Bruce Hanes as the register of wills; Sean P. Kilkenny as the sheriff; and Jason E. Salus as treasurer.
During reorganization, Chief Operating Officer Lee A. Soltysiak and County Solicitor Josh Stein were re-appointed to their roles. Senior Operations Manager Staci Washington was appointed as the new board secretary.