McCoy says broadband will expand to Hilltowns

The Enterprise — H. Rose Schneider

With military flags as a backdrop and screens overhead illustrating his message, Daniel McCoy gives his State of the County address Monday evening to a packed hall.

ALBANY — Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy gave his State of the County address Monday night, emphasizing county programs and investments as well as legal battles against oil and pharmaceutical companies.

In his address, McCoy spoke of investments in infrastructure and programs in rural parts of the county such as senior services in the Hilltowns, expanding internet access to Berne and Knox, and completing the paving of the Helderberg-Hudson Rail Trail.

Hilltown happenings

Speaking to The Enterprise on Tuesday, McCoy said the county had put out a request for proposals to expand internet access to Berne and Knox, and worked with an internet provider to arrange it by the end of the year. He said it will be funded through the county, although there are requests for state grants, “But I’m not holding my breath,” he said

The only provider to answer the RFP was Hudson Valley Wireless, said county spokeswoman Mary Rozak. The lowest price listed for its internet service is a little under $40 a month with a two-year contract.

In his address, McCoy also spoke of services to the elderly living in rural areas, noting the county was named an “Age Friendly Community” by the World Health Organization. However, regarding County Sheriff Craig Apple’s efforts to purchase the former Clarksville Elementary School building to make county services closer to the Hilltowns, McCoy told The Enterprise he wouldn’t want to purchase the building for a high price.

He said that the county has extended services to the Hilltowns with things like meal sites in the towns, but there wasn’t any reason to expand the reach of county services to Clarksville.

“At this point in time, there’s no justification for us to put services in that building,” he said.

McCoy told The Enterprise he had spoken with supervisors in the Hilltowns about volunteer emergency medical services there, stating that there is a lack of volunteers during the day and a lack of resources. He said the county is looking to eventually station the Sheriff’s EMS units in Berne, Knox, and Westerlo, but noted that the county has to be careful with financing such endeavors. The county has already agreed to take over services in Rensselaerville as its volunteer squad will soon close. (See related story.)

“Even though most of it’s reimbursed by the towns and villages, there’s still a cost to the taxpayers of Albany County,” said McCoy.

McCoy also made note of the county being the first municipality in the Capital Region to earn a grant through New York State Energy Research and Development Authority by completing four energy-saving projects, obtaining up to $250,000 in state funding for similar projects. The town of Knox has been seeking a similar grant from NYSERDA, needing a fourth and final action item to qualify; a grant for an electric-charging station was declined, as the Knox supervisor is opting for a different action item instead.

McCoy’s speech also remarked on efforts by the Albany County Land Bank, which buys up vacant property and puts it back on the market. Listed properties include spots in New Scotland and the Hilltowns.

“They’re getting clients there, they’re getting people to buy them,” McCoy told The Enterprise, of the Land Bank.

Rail Trail

Paving of the rail trail, said McCoy, will begin within the next two months, with the hope that it will be completed in September. The trail begins, unpaved, in Voorheesville, and is paved most of the way from around the Bethlehem-New Scotland border up to its end in Port of Albany.

“Businesses along the trail have gone up,” said McCoy, adding that there are hopes for activities in places like the new park surrounding the rescued Hilton Barn adjacent to the trail in New Scotland, and for pavement bringing more people to the trail.

Lawsuits

McCoy’s address also brought up several legal battles. The county, along with the group Earthjustice, is currently suing Global Companies, an oil company, for violating the Clean Air Act. Albany County has also filed suit against pharmaceutical companies for misleading doctors about the safety of opioids. And the county is setting up a Regional Immigration Assistance Center with the Office of Indigent Legal Services.

McCoy also spoke of a partnership with the United States Committee on Refugee and Immigration, the University at Albany’s International Student Office, Albany Law School, and the Capital Region Immigration Collaborative, to help immigrants. McCoy emphasized the value of this after a national travel ban being imposed.

When asked by The Enterprise about the possibility of Albany County becoming a sanctuary county, akin to what the city of Albany has done, McCoy said it had been considered but it was not likely, as the county receives much more federal funding than the city does, which could be affected should the federal government attempt to assert its authority over sanctuary cities and counties.

“Right now, we’re just looking at the idea,” he said. “We get a lot of federal money. It’s a lot different than the city or the state. Counties in New York get a ton of federal funding.”

The lawsuit against Global refers to a Clean Air Act permit that expired last year and was not renewed, and therefore asserts that Global is operating its facility in the South End neighborhood of Albany illegally.

Areas of the county like New Scotland and Coeymans where trains transporting oil to the facility may also be at risk, but, said McCoy, it’s harder to move a rail line.

He said he had pushed the federal Department of Transportation to set standards such as having positive train controls — which can cause a train to automatically brake — and having trains carry oil with a lower vapor density, but McCoy said that the national legislature “punted the football down” to have the bill ruled on in later years, and he fears now the new federal administration could turn such rulings around.

“All these standards they set up are going to go out the window,” he said.

McCoy’s State of the County address had been headlined by the creation of an Opioid Task Force to deal with opioid abuse. Along with the suit against pharmaceutical companies, McCoy also spoke of monthly training on using Narcan, or Naloxone, which can stop an opioid overdose. The Voorheesville School District recently allowed its school nurse to maintain and administer Naloxone. McCoy said to The Enterprise that its use in schools is unfortunate but necessary.

“It should be like CPR,” he said, likening training to use the antidote to the routine of learning cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

Major plans

McCoy’s address was also headlined by the county’s plans to put $60 million into renovations of the Albany County Nursing Home. McCoy told The Enterprise that this initially would be funded by the county but the state would fund around 75 to 85 percent of the cost after the next two to three years.

“So, the county will be on the hook for 15 percent of that project; the rest will be subsidized by the state and federal government,” he said.

McCoy also told The Enterprise that the nursing home’s Medicaid rate has gone up as well, from $192.63 to $229.40 daily, according to Rozak. With improvements in the facility, the rate is expected to increase further.

Renovations would include a single-floor addition, upgrades to the facility’s tower, and the establishment of a 9-1-1 dispatch center through the sheriff’s department there. Employment at the nursing home is not expected to increase, said McCoy, but there is a possibility other employers — fellow health-care providers — would be attracted to the site.

In his address, McCoy also expressed his displeasure in the governor vetoing a bill last year that would have the state fund indigent legal services rather than the counties, and also would have set standards for caseloads. Speaking to The Enterprise, McCoy said he hoped the veto wasn’t an attempt at an “election year-gimmick.” He also noted that the state had an obligation to provide equal access to services under the ruling of Gideon v. Wainwright.

“There cannot be two systems of criminal justice — one for the rich and one for the poor,” he said in his address.

At the end of his speech, McCoy emphasized county efforts to bring “opportunities for all,” and included an analysis of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land.” While it is a patriotic song, he said, he added that it was a rallying cry for equality as well, and noted that two verses of the song have been left out in the original recording that spoke of the government failing to keep its promise to take care of poor citizens.

He later told The Enterprise that the county has made many improvements in different areas.

“For the most part, we’re moving in the right direction,” he later concluded.

More Regional News

  • Governor Andrew Cuomo on Saturday reported that New York State has another case of the highly transmissible variant of COVID-19 known as B.1.1.7. The latest confirmed case is in Tompkins County, bringing the state’s total to 17.

  • Depending on the facility and the day, hospitals in the region are at 70- to 80-percent capacity. “Once we get to 85 percent, we get nervous,” said James Reed, the president and chief executive officer of St. Peter’s Health Partners. That is the number set by the state’s winter plan for battling COVID-19, requiring a region, at 21 days, to shut down.

  • Saturday, Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy announced 268 new cases of COVID-19 and three more deaths from the disease, bringing the county’s toll to 249.

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