Morgan Frisch/Recorder staff Montgomery County Executive Matthew Ossenfort holds his daughter Kaelee with his wife Melissa by his side after giving the final remarks of his State of the County Address Wednesday at Fulton-Montgomery Community College.
By MORGAN FRISCH
Recorder News Staff
JOHNSTOWN — Driving passed the Exit 29 site 15-years from now, County Executive Matthew Ossenfort envisions a thriving downtown, in which he can turn to his daughter and say “I was a small part in making that happen.”
This was one of several stories Ossenfort used to explain his vision for Montgomery County during his State of the County address Wednesday in the Fulton-Montgomery Community College theater. The venue was filled with government officials, community members, family and friends.
“That’s what it’s all about,” Ossenfort said. “It’s about the long haul, it’s about our kids and that’s a perspective I didn’t have the first couple years.”
The 35-year-old has held the position of executive for three years and during that time has learned the importance of prioritizing time and resources, he explained.
“I’m the type of guy who likes to get everything done right away,” Ossenfort said. “I’ve learned and have matured in a way that this is a multi-year, long-term thing.”
He said becoming okay with that was difficult, and his priorities have changed since he first started the position. Becoming a father, he said, has changed the way he thinks and has helped him learn a little patience.
Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente Jr. introduced Ossenfort and described the executive as not being shy or afraid and becoming a leader in a very short time.
“He used to refer to me as the new kid on the block when I first started,” Ossenfort said.
Picente told the crowd how proud he was of the county executive and how they should be as well.
“You should be proud of your county executive,” he said. “Of his accomplishments in a short time and his vision to lead this county even further as the years go by.”
Ossenfort said the goal is to cultivate transformative change for the region, and as a team, through a collaborative, regional approach, they have been making results.
“We cannot do this alone. Our issues are bigger than just ourselves and we cannot close ourselves off in Montgomery County,” he said. “We need to reach outside our borders for help, especially on a state and federal level.”
The Montgomery County Business Development Center was recognized for flourishing in 2016. Ossenfort mentioned how they obtained $8 million in grants to revitalize waterfronts and downtowns, as well as remediate brownfields and foster private sector growth.
He mentioned the Dollar General distribution center project in the town of Florida breaking ground this year as well as more than $1 million in funding that has been obtained for the former Beech-Nut site on Exit 29 that is expected to be a catalyst for the entire region.
A few other economic development projects mentioned were the Canalway Trail, Sanford Clock Tower incubator, Mohawk Country and the Workforce Development Initiative.
Ossenfort said the county has been declared one of the six finalists in the Local Government Efficiency Plan and has been awarded $50,000 to detail a proposal aimed at generating taxpayer savings. The winner will be awarded $20 million to implement the plan.
He said in 2014, the county formed innovation teams designed to change the way county government listens, communicates and conducts business. A few of the key initiatives are encouraging collaboration and sharing of resources, informing and engaging the public, as well as enhancing employee pride and community impact.
Ossenfort said one of the biggest challenges is aging infrastructure and the costs associated with replacement projects. This includes roads, bridges and inefficient county buildings.
“We must leverage state and federal funds to improve county infrastructure and limit the potential impact on local property tax bills,” he said.
Ossenfort said the county has been awarded $3.75 million to fully rehabilitate the existing two-span 180-foot Burtonsville Bridge, which is the only access east to west across the Schoharie Creek from the Gilboa Dam to the Mohawk River. Ossenfort said the project will be fully funded through state and federal funds. He said the structure proved vital for emergency service departments during Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee.
Ossenfort also discussed funding secured for the public safety emergency services and sheriff’s garage to be moved out of the flood zone and replacing the Miami Avenue culvert, which is one of the busiest roads in Montgomery County.
Emergency Preparedness and Public Safety
“The greatest responsibility of government is the protection of the lives and property of its people,” Ossenfort said.
He thanked Emergency Management Director Jeff Smith for all of his service, before explaining the steps the department has made to ensure the county is prepared and has the ability to respond to weather emergencies.
The county has received its storm-ready certification, which means it has met all of the requirements of the National Weather Service. They have also created a High-Threat Plan, which is a collaboration with local, state, and federal law and emergency medical services to establish planned responses to situations like bomb threats.
The department is near completion of a $3.2 million radio upgrade project that will enable multiple agencies to communicate on the same radio frequency, which improves communication for first responders.
Ossenfort said the county has been working to combat the opioid crisis, which impacts many people throughout the community.
He said opioid overdose prevention training and the Creative Collection Clubhouse have helped to combat the issue.
Montgomery County Legislative Chairman Roy Dimond said 2017 is going to be a very exciting year with a leader like Ossenfort.
He described the executive as progressive, energetic and a visionary.
District 6 Legislator John Duchessi said he was very appreciative of the executive’s remarks.
“I like his style of delivery and I find him pretty easy to work with as a legislator and I have a lot of confidence in him,” he said.
District 9 Legislator Robert Purtell also said Ossenfort has been easy to work with.
“I think we will continue to have a great rapport in the in future and move Montgomery County forward,” he said.
As for the future of the county, Ossenfort said it’s not just this year, next year, or the year after that.
“This is a big brick by brick project. It’s going to take time,” Ossenfort said. “It’s going to take us all working together over the long haul to turn this thing around.”
“As he mentioned in the speech, it’s not just for now, it’s for the future,” he said.