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Montgomery County Executive Matt Ossenfort Delivers State Of The County

Matt Ossenfort
Lucas Willard
Matt Ossenfort

Montgomery County Executive Matt Ossenfort gave his sixth State of the County address Thursday. Now in his second four-year term, the Republican talked about how the Mohawk Valley county has changed during his time in office.

County Executive Matt Ossenfort sounds optimistic today, but said when he came into office at age 32 in 2014, he had doubts about whether his approach to government would work.

“We’re six years later and I think it’s pretty safe to say that it’s gone pretty well. There’s certainly things that we could’ve done better, but as a team we’ve moved this county forward and this region forward in a positive way and I’m tremendously proud of that,” said Ossenfort.  

A look at some of the numbers:

The unemployment rate in the largely rural Montgomery County in 2013 was 9.2 percent. At the end of 2018, the rate was 5.4 percent, which Ossenfort describes as full employment.

The county has also attracted employers. One example, a Dollar General distribution center along Route 5S in Amsterdam promised to create more than 400 jobs.

County leaders recently banded together seeking funding in the New York state budget to expand bus service from CDTA into Montgomery County. The $3.5 million request ultimately was unsuccessful.

Ossenfort says the focus will continue to be attracting and training workers.

“Workforce development is something we really need to focus on and also we have an $80,000 Department of State grant where we’re going to be doing a workforce development feasibility study and potentially looking at the Exit 29 location, Exit 29 as the location for that site.”

The Exit 29 location in Canajoharie is the site of the former Beech-Nut baby food factory, which has since relocated to Route 5S in Amsterdam.

The county now owns the property and in 2018 was the recipient of a $6 million Restore NY state grant for remediation and demolition work at the site.

In total, Ossenfort says in 2017 and 2018, the county received more than $22 million in funding, including a $10 million state Downtown Revitalization Initiative grant for the City of Amsterdam.

On Wednesday, a day before Ossenfort’s address, it was announced Amsterdam was the recipient of $6.9 million in funding for pedestrian and bicycle accessibility as well as connections to downtown.

“You know, this is not about taking credit, but I do hope the culture that we’ve created has helped in some small way to see these results that we’re seeing,” said Ossenfort.

But Ossenfort also said it’s important to balance the county’s rural character with economic growth. Ossenfort is enthusiastic about a solar energy project in Canajoharie that has enjoyed community support. He does not support, however, a large-scale solar project in the Town of Florida.

“That one I don’t support, and I bring it up because I think you have to be thoughtful when you consider these things, because we are trying to make things better but also conserve the good things that we have,” said Ossenfort.

Ossenfort says with the changing economic status of Montgomery County, and with all the other economic development projects underway, he does not see a need to further pursue a controversial business park in the Town of Mohawk. Residents have organized against an annexation of 268 acres in Mohawk to the City of Johnstown in Fulton County.

“Pushing that forward and pursuing that project is not something the county needs to do. And especially given the lack of community support and the lack of support from electeds, I think, you know what, let’s focus our energies elsewhere and we’ll take it from there,” said Ossenfort.

On Tuesday, Democratic State Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara announced a bill that would place a moratorium on the annexation of farmland for industrial uses. He said in a statement in part:

“The right decision is to SAY NO to annexation proposals like this and say no to more empty industrial parks.”

Ossenfort used the word “team” often in his speech. Although he is a Republican working with a Democrat-led state government, Montgomery’s first and only County Executive says it’s not about party politics. He ended the speech with a lesson he took from his young daughter.

“We’re all in this together, and if we work together good things can happen,” said Ossenfort.

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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