Believe it or not, things may actually be looking up for Montgomery County.
After over a half year in office, the new administration has turned some heads. Known for a large tax hike last year and lavish spending, which included a grand jury report of its chairman, the county is looking to restore its image.
They might actually be on the right track.
“You had a public that was ashamed of its majority leaders in the last administration and commissioners that shut out other commissioners,” said Chairman Josh Shapiro. “You now have collaboration in the board of commissioners.”
As a group, the three commissioners have already made tough decisions, in a county that raised taxes by 17 percent last year. Still, officials are looking to make the right decisions in this year’s budget and not have residents deal with another tax hike.
“Look, there isn’t enough money, and cuts are going to have to be made and that doesn’t make me happy,” Shapiro said. “It is the reality that we face. It doesn’t mean I am not optimistic. I am incredibly optimistic, and I feel really good about the progress that the three of us has made.”
Shapiro sure does have a reason to be optimistic. He and the commissioners have composed staff that works extensively on a budget. To eliminate the rumor of bad government, the board passed a procurement policy. They also cleaned house in the solicitor’s office, and recently hired five new solicitors to help run the department. All will be full-time employees.
“I always thought that the best politics is doing your job well,” said Commissioner Bruce Castor who was known as the odd man out during the last administration. “Even if you are making unpopular decisions and you explain why it is, people respect you for it even though they don’t agree. The days of ‘we are the commissioners and the heck with everyone else’ are over.”
Residents shook their heads when last November the commissioners threatened to cut millions of dollars in state funding. It caused an uproar that caused hundreds to flood the offices where meetings are held in order for residents to get their funding back.
Even though the county had roughly $95.5 million in reserve in 2007, by the end of 2011, the number was to about $20 million. Even a quarterly finance report revealed that the county may face a $3.1 million deficit.
“We’ve made a lot of progress, but we still have a lot to do and a long way to go,” said Vice Chairman Leslie Richards.
The county is still looking to present a zero deficit budget at the end of the year, while continuing to change the culture in Montgomery County. Just six months into the new administration it seems as though it is finally happening.
“We have eliminated the arrogance I think, and we need to dispel the public’s perceptions that we are arrogant,” Castor said. “I think those things are happening. The fact of the matter is that you judge us on our merits and not on our party. I am very pleased with the way things are going and the direction we are going, even if we have to make tough decisions that are going to involve negative consequences down the road, I think the public will respect us if overtime we show the long-term benefits.”