John Purcell/Recorder staff
From right, Amsterdam Mayor Michael Villa discusses the need for establishing a fund to help communities facing infrastructure problems as Montgomery County Executive Matthew Ossenfort listens to Villa’s remarks.
By JOHN PURCELL
Recorder News Staff
GLEN — Montgomery County and local officials relayed what state initiatives they believed are effective and some concerns about Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed 2017-18 budget following a regional budget briefing Thursday.
Elected officials and community leaders were invited to the presentation delivered by Brian Stratton, director of the state Canal Corporation, Thursday morning at the new Montgomery County Emergency Management Office. Cuomo’s budget totals around $152 billion and he unveiled his budget last month through several regional stops.
Montgomery County Executive Matthew Ossenfort said the governor’s support of Regional Economic Development Councils has been helpful for the county. Ossenfort said funds awarded through the competitive regional grant process has supported good projects.
“Our economic development team has been doing an amazing job of accessing whatever we can to help with our plans,” Ossenfort said.
Montgomery County Legislature Chairman Roy Dimond said economic development funds received within the county has made a big impact on local communities.
Amsterdam Mayor Michael Villa said unfortunately the city has become the “torchbearer” for infrastructure issues, with a particular focus on repairing and upgrading sewer infrastructure.
Villa said at some point he believed there needs to a fund set aside for the state to help small cities or communities in distress experiencing an emergency situation. He said such emergency projects are “virtually impossible to budget” for ahead of the issue.
“The cost of such process is astronomical,” Vila said. “It happens when it happens and it has to be repaired.”
Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara announced a proposal to create such an emergency fund allowing for an expedited of funds to assist communities battling an infrastructure emergency following the sewer discharge off Forest Avenue in Amsterdam. Sen. George Amedore has sponsored a similar bill, which he recently introduced.
Ossenfort asked if funds would be available to Montgomery County through Cuomo’s proposal to complete the Empire State Trail, which involves developing 350 miles of new trailway to fill remaining gaps in the Hudson River Valley Greenway and Erie Canalway trails by 2020.
“What if you’re a county like ours where it doesn’t have any major gaps?” Ossenfort asked. “Could there be an opportunity for us to go after some dollars for things like connecting the rest area to the bike path?”
Stratton said he believed the initiative would want to focus on closing all the gaps first, but there could be an opportunity to apply for funds through the regional council to create a trail spur. There are also existing trail programs providing funding opportunities.
He said the state would be looking at opportunities to take advantage of the Mohawk Valley Gateway Overlook pedestrian bridge’s proximity to to the Erie Canalway Trail.
“Through the regional council there’s always opportunities,” Stratton said. “We don’t have plans through the Empire State Trail program to do more at this time other than to complete the gaps.”
Mark Kilmer, president of the Fulton Montgomery Regional Chamber of Commerce, said he has appreciated Cuomo supporting and recognizing the value of tourism.
“This administration has never denied us requests for matching funds,” Kilmer said. “The value of marketing is incredible.”
Kilmer believed the Lock E-13 Living History Rest Area along state Thruway would do “some incredible things” for Montgomery and Fulton counties. The rest area, located on the westbound side of the Thruway between the Fonda and Canajoharie exits, features information about the historical significance of the area and includes a Taste NY store operated by Liberty ARC.
“People will stop and we will drive them off the Thruway to come either back on the return trip or maybe that trip go out,” Kilmer said. “There’s going to be a lot of opportunity for marketing our specific region there. We are the gateway to the Adirondacks and everything falls together with that particular center.”
Kilmer also wanted to encourage the governor to continue supporting the two existing state Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH) programs operating within the HFM BOCES region.
“This is still a young program and needs support financially to continue on until it becomes self-sufficient,” Kilmer said.
Cuomo proposed investing an additional $5.3 million to expand the Early College High School Programs statewide, which would fund establishing 10 new program sites.
Montgomery County District 9 Legislator Robert Purtell said while he appreciates what the governor has done to benefit local communities, he was found it “troubling” Cuomo did not include a funding reimbursement increase for direct care workers.
Purtell said Liberty ARC is the third largest employer in Montgomery County and retaining experienced employees has become increasing difficult. Direct care workers are substantially supported by the state through funding level increases.
“I’m a parent of a child who’s disabled and receives services,” Purtell said. “It’s kind of discouraging that most of its employees are living close to the poverty line. They work very hard, but in the past three years there’s been no increase for funding to support direct care workers.”
Denis Wilson, executive director of Fulmont Community Action Agency, said the nonprofit is primarily federally funded and the state minimum wage increases over the next several years would create a problem for the organization. Wilson the federal government isn’t going to provide more funding after the minimum wage increase.
“We project in about three years we’re going to have to lay some people off and stop some services,” Wilson said.
Stratton said he was unsure if there would be any relief funding, but he would convey Wilson’s concern to the Governor’s Office.