In the latest New York state Regional Economic Development Council awards, both Fulton and Montgomery counties received funding for a high percentage of the economic development projects they submitted to the state for funding.
Fulton County received funding for five of the six projects applied for, totaling $1.4 million, while Montgomery County received funding for 10 of 13 projects applied for, totaling $4.5 million.
Obviously, both counties had good strategies for getting state funding and Ron Peters in Fulton County and Ken Rose and Matt Ossenfort in Montgomery County should be commended for successfully navigating the state’s funding system. However, the pronounced gap in the amount of funding received and the number of projects applied for in Montgomery County — the lesser-populated county by about 5,000 people — speaks volumes.
Ossenfort told us Montgomery County received all of the funding it requested for eight project applications, and didn’t get any money for about three projects totaling $906,870. Montgomery County did have a large $1.5 million grant go toward its Dollar General distribution plant project, but removing that project from the comparison of both counties would still mean Montgomery County scored about twice as much funding as Fulton County.
Peters told us Fulton County was cut short on a few projects and if it had gotten the full amount requested, the total award would have been closer to $2.5 to $3 million.
When asked why his county did so well, Ossenfort said constant engagement with the state was key and he cited Montgomery County’s decision in 2012 to do away with its antiquated Board of Supervisors form of government and adopt a new county charter with an elected executive and nine-member legislature. Seeing as how both counties have mostly Republican leadership, applying for funding from a Democratic administration, Ossenfort’s argument seems like a good explanation.
While we’ve been critical of some new positions created in Montgomery County since the new form of government, the money Ossenfort and Rose secured from the state this year more than pays for those cost increases. The number of projects applied for, including the ongoing situation with the abandoned Beech-Nut plant in Canajoharie, speak to the way Ossenfort and the Montgomery County Legislature have been able to prioritize areas of importance for the county and pursue a clear strategy for success.
We think it’s time for the Fulton County Board of Supervisors to at least consider a new county executive/legislature form of government. A County Charter Commission should be formed to look at the pros and cons of doing away with the Board of Supervisors form of government on the county level. To switch systems, the Board of Supervisors would need to approve a charter plan and then put it in front of voters for approval, and we think that process should be on the Board’s agenda for 2017.
Although Fulton County has a clear Republican majority, it continues to be divided on major issues of economic development, with each municipality always holding out for its own interest. Issues like consolidation of services, sharing resources and a clear economic vision for the county might benefit from an elected county executive with a clear mandate from the public and county legislators with district lines drawn across city and town borders.
The time to consider real change is now. Montgomery County has shown a pathway to increase state funding. Fulton County has the same opportunities and we encourage the board of supervisors to follow Montgomery County’s lead.