Near the middle of Friday’s State of the County address, Montgomery County Executive Matt Ossenfort played a promotional video debuted recently as part of the county’s ongoing marketing strategy.
Over sweeping views of the Montgomery County countryside and panning shots of suburbs and industry, local business leaders talk up the benefits of the county.
“What you’ll find is fantastic natural beauty, you’ll find a community that is easy to traverse,” says Vic Giulianelli, president and CEO of St. Mary’s Healthcare. “You’ll find a community that really is a community.”
The video presented a rare few minutes of sentimental messaging in what Ossenfort promised to be a “meat and potatoes” presentation about the county’s progress in his three years as executive and the goals for the coming year.
“We’ve been working incredibly hard over the past couple years, a lot has been getting done,” he said. “This is a nuts-and-bolts speech going back through these core principles that we set out in the first year. And we are going to continue these as long as I’m executive.”
Those core principles start with the budget, which Ossenfort said is going to be more challenging in 2016 due to decreasing sales tax revenue and a projected tax increase cap of just half a percent.
The county had the steepest decline in sales tax revenue in the state last year, when it dropped by $1.9 million from 2014, or 6.7 percent.
Despite the decrease, Ossenfort said the county still came out over its projection for sales tax revenue in 2015.
“I’m very proud that we had the foresight to say, ‘Let’s not artificially inflate this budget with a projected increase,’ ” he said. “Thankfully we’re not as bad off as we could have been.”
While the state’s tax cap is expected to limit the county to half a percent increase this year, he said, expenses are rising much faster.
“Until we get down the line and we really achieve significant economic development and bring in new revenue into the county, the challenge and goal is going to be to hold the line on taxes,” he said.
On the theme of economic development, Ossenfort countered common criticisms about the state of the county’s economy.
“That’s the one thing I hear on the radio, I hear the scuttlebutt in the coffee shops: ‘You’re not doing anything for economic development,’ ” he said. “Well that’s a bunch of phooey. Not true. We are working our tails off to try to bring development into this county.”
He noted that the companies that currently have loan, payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreements or bonds through the Montgomery County Economic Development Center altogether employ more than 2,300 people, have a combined payroll of more than $183 million and pay more than $6 million in property taxes and PILOT payments each year.
He also touted the $7.9 million the county received through the state’s Regional Economic Development Council awards in December.
In talking about training the county’s workforce, Ossenfort highlighted the county’s investments at Fulton-Montgomery Community College as well as the agricultural PTECH program that Hamilton-Fulton-Montgomery BOCES is launching this fall at an unused building in the Oppenheim-Ephratah-St. Johnsville School District.
The program will be the first of its kind in the state, he said.
“That’s the type of cutting-edge and forward-thinking initiatives that we need a lot more of in this county,” he said. “These are the types of things that are going to separate us from other counties in the state and really put us on the map.”
Like Fulton County leaders, he praised a revenue sharing deal between the two counties for a proposed regional business park on the Fulton-Montgomery line, which he said would greatly increase the tax base of the Fonda-Fultonville School District as well as providing possibly hundreds of jobs for local workers.
He also promised movement on the former Beech-Nut site in Canajoharie, which he is now calling the “Exit 29 redevelopment site.”
The county is currently in the process of an environmental review before potentially taking the property in foreclosure, as well as searching for state and federal cooperation for funding.
“This is a big decision for the county,” he said. “If this goes into foreclosure, the county takes it over, and we do it in haste and we don’t know exactly what we’re talking about, that could be the kind of decision that could bankrupt the county if we end up in trouble.”
In March, Ossenfort is setting out on a tour of the county to deliver a version of the same presentation at every town and village board meeting.
“It’s going to be an opportunity to hear about the direction of the county and also for us to listen to what the needs are,” he said. “I feel very good about what we’re doing. I think we’re making good progress in this county and this has got to continue over the long term.”