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Montgomery County Executive Looks Back On First Year

Matt Ossenfort

Montgomery County, New York is celebrating its first year under a new system of government — and doing so under new leadership. County Executive Matt Ossenfort spoke to WAMC’s Lucas Willard about his first year in office and what’s ahead for the largely rural county.

Matt Ossenfort has had a busy year, but he said working with the legislature in his new role of County Executive has been “overwhelmingly positive.”

“It’s worked very well for us, and I think when look at the meetings that we’ve had, we’ve had constructive discussions. We haven’t agreed on everything but there hasn’t been personal attacks or some of the disfunction that plagued the previous boards, and we’re really working together and taking advantage of the opportunity , which was this fresh start that we’ve had.”

Over the past year, Ossenfort said the county, which has been plagued by high poverty, has been improving its reputation. In the last year, the county’s bond rating had improved to A+, and officials worked to reduce the $4 million deficit by $1.1 million.

West of Schenectady, the county contains Amsterdam and Canajoharie, with a population of about 50,000. It began a number of studies to spur economic development in 2014. Last year, Ossenfort called for a branding study to help promote the county as a destination. The county executive said the results of the study will be rolled out in the coming months. The Fulton Montgomery Regional Chamber of Commerce will also take on duties promoting county tourism, something it already does with neighboring Fulton County.

Studies were also completed on a potential regional business park, on the Fulton County line in the town of Mohawk.

“And we got some great news from the rail study, which says basically that the rail spur to that site is a viable option, and is one that CSX is willing to work with us on. And that was fantastic news because that makes that site, according to the site selector that came in, about 70 percent more marketable with rail access.”

As the county’s CEO, Ossenfort said he plays a big role in advocating for his county’s share of the $1.5 billion in economic development funding recently announced by Governor Andrew Cuomo. Seven upstate regions will compete for the surplus funds, with three winners splitting the $1.5 billion.

Ossenfort said working with the towns he’s compiled a list of capital projects and opportunities for investment that he will share with state and elected officials.

“I am a little concerned from what I heard yesterday, some of that funding might be used for the Tappan Zee bridge costs, and maybe keeping the tolls down on the Thruway, but I know for sure after being here for a year…40 percent of our bridges are categorized as deficient, our roads are in much need of improvement, as well as we have broadband issues in this county. So those are the areas, along with some of the canalway development, that I’d really like to see these dollars go to.”

Ossenfort, a Republican, said he will seek state dollars to help with brownfield cleanup.

Montgomery County vied unsuccessfully for a casino license for a site in the Town of Florida, although Ossenfort last year had cautioned not to “put all the economic development eggs in the casino basket.”

With the state green-lighting the Rivers Casino in Schenectady, Ossenfort said there’s still opportunity for the neighboring county.

“Frankly, I mean, that facility is just going to be 15, 20 minutes from my house, personally. So I think our proximity will certainly benefit. I think there’s certainly going to be some job opportunities. From what I hear, there’s going to be maybe some job fairs in Montgomery County, which would be fantastic. New jobs is certainly a good thing, but then we also have the sharing of the gaming revenue, which should down the pipe in a couple years. And I’ve already spoke to some of the legislators and some of my economic development officials about what we can do to dedicate that funding.”

Ossenfort also said he sees more potential for the 300-acre site where developers had hoped to build a casino.

This year, Ossenfort said the county will be rolling ahead on consolidating and relocating the county offices. Last year, the county passed the first phase to expand its public safety facility. The emergency operations center will be moved out of a flood zone to the county sheriff’s office, which he hopes will be completed by fall.

A local government efficiency plan is also due in June.

“And it’s going to be without a doubt another busy year, but I’m looking to continue the momentum, and continue the progress in that first year,” said Ossenfort.

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.
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