Ossenfort optimistic about future

FONDA — Although 2020 was a tough year due to COVID-19 and its repercussions, Montgomery County will continue to persevere in 2021 and get “stronger together.”

Montgomery County Executive Matt Ossenfort delivered the State of the County Address on Tuesday reflecting on not only the both the good and bad of 2020 but looking ahead to what’s to come for the county this year.

Ossenfort discussed the start of the pandemic which was almost one year ago — March 2020 — and the toll it has placed on the county including the death of Dave Swart, the first Montgomery County resident who died due the virus with more deaths to follow, the financial burden, the increase in suicides and domestic violence, schools closing, PPE supply shortages, toilet paper shortages, businesses closed and much more. However, the virus has brought the community together while remaining apart such as when a 16-year-old Montgomery County, Alabama resident donated supplies to Montgomery County here in New York and the county returned the favor when they were in need of supplies.

“I guess this goes to show it doesn’t matter which Montgomery County you live in, we’re all able to assist each other in a time of need,” Ossenfort said.

“It had all come about because of one person’s kindness. I still get a little emotional still looking back on that family and our connection to people 1,000 miles away,” Ossenfort added.

He said due to the pandemic, and businesses being shut down, the county had been preparing for 20 percent cuts to sales tax and state aid which would have led to layoffs.

Ossenfort said however, they are seeing growth; distribution centers and manufacturing companies in the county are doing well. He said the county has seen a 6.6 percent increase in sales tax.

“However, I wouldn’t say my biggest fear was financial. The emotional cost of the pandemic, the breakdown of mental health is still what concerns me the most,” Ossenfort said. “The lockdown of Montgomery County, with its high poverty levels is profound. In the more rural areas we are more socially distanced by nature. On top of that isolation there is insufficient access to services.”

He said lack of transportation for services has always been a problem in the county, but COVID-19 has made that situation worse. Suicides and domestic violence has been on the rise along with drug overdoses, alcoholism, violence, theft and vandalism.

The county has taken part in the New York state Association of County’s Take 5 for New York Program.

“If your neighbor is having issues, take a few minutes out of your day and get in touch via phone or social media and let them know help is available,” Ossenfort said.

Ossenfort said by the first week of January, there were 61 deaths and 1,602 total positive cases. There are now 3,002 total positive virus cases.

“Our public health department and county team is making an all-out effort to keep up with our volume of work. I am confident — particularly now that vaccines are available — that we will beat COVID-19,” Ossenfort said. “But our grief will last long beyond the pandemic and so will our pride in how we confronted this horrific virus. I really truly believe we persevered, we’ve grown stronger together and now is the time to heal.”

He said “There are some promising signs of hope.”

That includes continuing to strengthen the county’s finances; and economic development that included the Dollar General Distribution Center, Microtel, Amazon, Vida Blend expansion project, Five Guys and soon-to-be Jersey Mikes, the Rao Outpatient Pavilion and pharmacy expansion project, Albany Med and Nathan Littauer Urgent Care/Primary Care Specialty Services Clinic and a housing development project.

The county has also held several initiatives to help small businesses throughout the pandemic such as the Buy It In Montgomery campaign and the Small Business of the Month.

Ossenfort said there has also been major progress made on the former Beech-Nut site in Canajoharie. He said they are actively on the eastern side of the site are in negotiations for a developmental project that will most likely get done within the next month “bringing a lot of new excitement to the village of Canajoharie.”

Ossenfort said there are many more exciting projects to come that will bring more growth throughout the county.

“I’ve often been called an optimist. It’s a badge I wear proudly. The issues will last long after this pandemic is done, but I am so proud in the way in which we handled it, and for the reasons today, so proud and excited and optimistic about our future,” Ossenfort said.

By Paul Wager