2019 State of the County address: ‘Our future is bright’

The Enterprise — Meghan Mulkerrin

Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy, in his 2019 State of the County address on Thursday, Jan. 24, recounted his first address, in 2012, and said, “Our county was facing daunting challenges.” This year, he said, the state of the county is strong.

ALBANY COUNTY — The state of Albany County is strong, County Executive Daniel McCoy told over 100 attendees during his eighth State of the County address. “Because of you,” McCoy said, speaking to and about the county’s legislators, employees, not-for-profit partners, and residents present in the county-owned Times Union Center on Thursday, Jan. 24, “tonight, I am proud to report that the State of our County is strong and that our future is bright.”

In his 40-minute address, McCoy touched on prior accomplishments — over $60 million in the county rainy-day fund; a gimmick-free recently-enacted balanced budget; and a property-tax cut for homeowners — and announced plans to further combat the opioid epidemic, divert more youth from entering the juvenile legal system, aid the underprivileged, and help increase the county’s economy.

Responding to McCoy’s speech, Republican Frank Mauriello, the county legislature’s minority leader, said in a statement, “I look forward to another year working on increasing accountability and transparency in Albany County government while also pushing for the critical infrastructure and solid waste investments that are needed in our communities. We will continue to place a high priority on holding the line on taxes while still providing an effective delivery of necessary services to our residents and constituents.”

Opioids

Last year, the county filed a lawsuit against four pharmaceutical companies involved in the manufacturing, marketing, and sale of prescription opioid pain medications seeking to “redress harm from a long-running and far reaching fraudulent scheme perpetuated” by Purdue Pharma, Endo Pharmaceuticals, Teva Pharmaceuticals, and Janssen Pharmaceuticals.

Albany County’s suit was consolidated with, what is now, 1,500 other lawsuits into a single multidistrict litigation federal case that is being heard in the Northern District of Ohio Eastern Division in Cleveland.

In this year’s State of the County address, McCoy announced that the county’s lawsuit was amended to include the distributors (the middlemen between the manufacturer and retailer) of prescription opioid pain medications. “Who we believe should be held equally accountable for this crisis,” said McCoy.

“Very importantly, Judge [Dan Aaron] Polster, who is overseeing this historic litigation, just issued an important order denying the industry’s motion to dismiss,” McCoy said.

McCoy noted that overdose deaths across the country involving opioids had increased six-fold since 1999. In 2017, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 47,600 deaths were caused by an opioid overdose; in 1999, there were 8,050 were opioid-related overdose deaths.

In 2017, in the United States, the death rate from opioid-related overdoses was nearly 15 per 100,000, according to the CDC.

In 2017, New York State excluding New York City, had, according to the state’s Department of Health, an opioid-related overdose death rate of almost 18 per 100,000 (West Virginia had a rate of nearly 50 per 100,000, the highest in the country). New York City had an opioid-related overdose death rate of 23.5 per 100,000.

In Albany County, in 2017, there were 41 opioid-related overdose deaths, according to the state’s Department of Health; that gave the county an opioid-related overdose death rate of 13.3 per 100,000.

In 2016, there were 28 opioid-related overdose deaths in Albany County, a death rate of 9 per 100,000; in 2015, there were 31 deaths, a rate of 10 per 100,000; and, in 2014, there were 23 opioid-related overdose deaths in Albany County, a death rate of 7.5 per 100,000.

“We will do everything we can as a county to deal with this crisis,” McCoy pledged in his address. To that end, he announced a new initiative called Getting Recovery Options Working, or GROW.

Borrowed from Dayton, Ohio, a city ravaged by the opioid epidemic, GROW is an outreach initiative where every two weeks, individuals and neighborhoods at high-risk for opioid abuse are “blitzed” by trained professionals and volunteers.

“On a targeted blitz,” according to the Center for American Progress, a nonpartisan, independent policy institute based in Washington, D.C. with a liberal viewpoint on social and economic issues, “participants visit the homes of those who have overdosed in a particular jurisdiction in the past week.”

In other blitzes, door-to-door canvasses are conducted in neighborhoods with high drug use. “In both cases,” the Center for American Progress says, “organizers offer to share information on treatment options.” In 2017, three-hundred-and-eleven homes were visited, 190 individuals were contacted, and 21 were referred to treatment.

Ohio was second only to West Virginia in opioid-fatality rate in 2017; and second to Pennsylvania in total deaths. Since 2011, Montgomery County, which includes the city of Dayton, has had the highest rate of overdose deaths in Ohio, according to the Center for American Progress.

Since Ohio’s GROW program was implemented in 2016, and combined with other initiatives, overdose deaths in Montgomery County have fallen dramatically. In the first six months of 2018, there were 132 overdose deaths; in 2017, during the same period, there had been 378 overdose deaths.

Zero Youth Detention

“With the implementation of Raise the Age,” McCoy said of the state law that took effect on Oct. 1, 2018, and says 16-year-olds can no longer be arrested or tried as adults, “and the repurposing of our juvenile-detention facility to a facility that will house juveniles that previously would have been sent to adult detention, I believe more needs to be done to divert youth from entering the juvenile legal system in the first instance.”

One-hundred-eighty-one 16-year-olds and two-hundred-and-fifty-three 17-year-olds were arrested in Albany County in 2017, a total of 434 arrests; 51 of those 434 arrests were for violent felonies. Of the 51 violent-felony arrests, 10 youths were sent to prison and eight to jail.

To further the goal of reducing that number, McCoy announced a new initiative, Zero Youth Detention, modeled after a program in King County, Washington.

The King County “Road Map” has five overarching goals with corresponding strategies and specific steps to reach Zero Youth Detention:

— Lead with racial equity;

— Prevent youth from entering the juvenile legal system by focusing on partnerships among youth and families, schools and communities, and the county;

— Divert youth from further law enforcement, formal legal processes, and secure detention into community-based options;

— Support youth and families to reduce recurrence of legal-system involvement; and

— Increase coordination between government systems and youth and their families.

The strategies and specific steps used to achieve the overarching goals were drawn from community-developed recommendations; interaction with the impacted communities; interviews with youth and families involved in the juvenile legal system as well as the system’s employees; and information from experts in brain science, adolescent development, trauma-informed treatment, and resilience.

Over the course of a 20-year period, 1998 to 2017, King County reduced the use of secure detention of youth by 77 percent. The goal of King County, which has a population 2.18 million, is not to just further reduce the use of secure detention but to “eliminate it,” according to the county’s strategic plan, or “Road Map.”

In 1998, there was a daily average of 188 youths in secure detention in King County; by 2017, it was 50. The Capital District Youth Center (which serves Albany, Schenectady, Saratoga, and Rensselaer counties), according to the most recent data available from the Capital District Regional Planning Commission, in 2000, had a daily average of about 21 youths in secure detention; by 2017, it was about 10.

One estimate from the Capital District Regional Planning Commission of the Capital District Youth Center said that, in a daily population of thirteen 16- and 17-year-olds, seven were from Albany County while Rensselaer, Saratoga, and Schenectady counties each had two.

“Every child in this county deserves the opportunity to reach his or her full potential and to achieve their dreams,” McCoy said. “Zero Youth Detention will be dedicated to the mission of helping them realize those dreams by helping ensure interaction with the juvenile detention system is avoided.”

Poverty and opportunity

McCoy, touting a compassionate and progressive county government, pointed to an initiative started last year, called Bridges Out of Poverty, that is addressing the effects of poverty at individual, institutional, and community levels.

In 2017, in Albany County, with an estimated population of 308,000, 12.4 percent of residents lived below the poverty line, most of them in the city of Albany, where about 22,000 of the roughly 36,000 Albany County residents in poverty lived.

In each month of 2018, McCoy said, the county’s Social Services Department addressed the effects of poverty by processing over 17,000 Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program cases, over 19,000 Medicaid cases, and close to 6,000 temporary assistance cases.

In Albany County, in 2017, according to the United States Census Bureau, there were about 68,000 families. Nearly 30,000 of those families had children under the age of 18; and about a quarter of them received some kind of public assistance.

At the other end of the age spectrum, in 2017, in Albany County, about 4,800 families with “householders” 65 years and over received some kind of public assistance other than income from Social Security — for example,  Supplemental Security Income; cash assistance; or SNAP benefits, formerly known as food stamps.

The poverty rate in America has remained unchanged for a very long time — nationally, in 1970, for example, the rate was 12.6 percent; in 2017, it was 12.3 percent — McCoy was asked by The Enterprise at what point are you throwing good money after bad, and when do you have to start changing that and do something different?

He responded by first pointing to the GROW initiative, a program that aims to help people with addictions. “We’re going to talk about really changing how we respond to the opioid epidemic,” McCoy said.

“I did Bridges Out of Poverty,” he said next. “That whole program, we’re basically showing people that there’s different ways of doing things.”

The county’s Social Services Department, in implementing Bridges Out of Poverty last year, processed over 17,000 SNAP cases, a program that has been around in one form or another since 1939; over 19,000 Medicaid cases, first signed into law in 1965; and close to 6,000 temporary assistance cases, which began during the Great Depression.

“And again … programs that we’ve been running for the last hundred years, it hasn’t worked or they just didn’t change with the next generation,” McCoy said. “We need to see what’s working and what’s not working, and change with that.”

Two other poverty-fighting programs noted by McCoy were Dress for Success and Project Growth. Dress for Success helps people by providing them with professional clothing for work or job interviews.

Project Growth is a juvenile-justice program that creates a system for crime victims to be made whole for financial loss, while holding youth accountable for their actions and teaching them a trade as well.

Seeking to expand economic opportunity for the entire county, McCoy announced that a new strategic plan for economic development is in the works.

Camoin Associates, a consulting firm hired by the county, McCoy said, “will do a ‘deep dive’ analysis of our local and regional economy.”

The consultants, he added, “will identify long-lasting growth opportunities and development strategies for our community … That will include a focus on developing a green economy and greater economic justice as we seek to both eliminate inequality and protect our environment…”

 

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