McCoy touts broadband for all, economic recovery, court for mentally ill, safe space for violence victims

— From YouTube

Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy

ALBANY COUNTY — Leaning hard on military metaphors and quotes from   famous figures to place Albany County’s response to the pandemic in historic terms, County Executive Daniel McCoy said “The state of the county is strong.”

“The light is at the end of [the] tunnel, and indeed, we can see it and the light is getting brighter,” McCoy said on Monday evening in a remote address. “But now is no time to slow down, and no time to relax; we are still battling this disease. There is no time for COVID-19 fatigue.”

McCoy began his speech by thanking politicians at every level of government except Governor Andrew Cuomo, and talked about being at war with COVID-19 for the past year. 

“We are closing in [on] our enemy and I shall accept nothing short of full victory … I have been vigilant throughout this pandemic,” McCoy said. “And to be sure, I shall remain vigilant and use all resources to deliver the final blow that will return our community back to safety.”

Noting that Albany County lost over 360 residents to COVID-19, McCoy quoted Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg: “We here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain.” McCoy made it a point to note the type of people who died in Albany County. 

“It matters not that so many were in nursing homes, or older in years, or had pre-existing medical conditions. Every life is valuable. Let us honor each of those fallen equally. Let them not die in vain,” McCoy said.

Among the initiatives noted or announced by McCoy during his 10th State of County Address were a study examining the technical feasibility of launching county-wide broadband; the opening of a county mental-health court; a five-point economic recovery plan; and the build-out of safe space for victims of domestic violence.

 

Federal funds

McCoy’s State of the County began with a virtual appearance by Senator Chuck Schumer, touting $3.5 million in additional Medicaid funding for Albany County; $9 million in rental assistance; $20 million aid for Albany International Airport, although Schumer’s office says its $13.4 million; and “most important, I am fighting very hard for direct aid to Albany County itself, [which] looks like it will happen in the new COVID bill.”

Albany County received $59.25 million from the American Rescue Plan.

— Guilderland received $3.92 million;

— New Scotland, $950,000;

— Berne, $300,000;

— Westerlo, $360,000;

— Knox, $290,000; and

— Rensselaerville received $200,000

The villages of Altamont and Voorheesville will also be receiving federal funding, but those “amounts are not included in the breakdown because of the complications of calculating those amounts until a process is put in place to divvy up funds between overlapping governments,” according to Schumer’s office.

Mary Rozak, McCoy’s director of communications, told The Enterprise that the county is due about half of the American Rescue Plan money 60 days after President Biden signs the $1.9 trillion bill, which was on Thursday, March 11, and that the other half comes some time next year. 

The federal money will be used to “to replenish our lost revenues and the costs of our COVID response,” Rozak said. 

Rozak did not know how much the county had spent on its COVID response.

Eight-million dollars will be put back in the county’s fund balance, Rozak said.

To present a balanced spending plan for 2021, McCoy’s budget relied on tapping the county’s $60 million rainy-day fund for $3 million, reallocating $5 million that would have otherwise been appropriated toward paying off county debt, and $5 million in salaries and benefits savings from 80 employees who each accepted a $15,000 buyout to either retire or leave county employ — it cost the county well over $1 million in up-front costs to get those employees off its books. 

 

Equity agenda

During his speech on Monday, McCoy announced, as part of his “equity agenda,” the “Albany County Connect Project,” a goal to bring high-speed internet access to every Albany County resident by 2023, “no matter where you live.”

The first phase of the project would be a feasibility study looking at launching broadband county-wide.

“As I said earlier, we have to learn from the mistakes of the past … We must recognize the differing challenges that occur throughout our neighborhoods in both rural and urban areas,” McCoy said. “To that end, I recognized an issue with internet access in both Hilltown populations and in neighborhoods within the city of Albany.”

As schools went remote, McCoy said, those disparities were made even more stark.

“To remedy some of the issues within the Hilltowns, we partnered with Hudson Valley Wireless. We provided Hudson Valley Wireless with access to towers upon our land,” the county executive said. “In addition, we provided funding that allowed for a stipend to lower the cost of internet to families in need that have children in school.”

McCoy said the cost of the study would be split between the county and private-sector, and that it must include specific recommendations to allow internet access regardless of a person’s ability to pay. 

Five years after first mentioning it during one of his State of the County addresses, McCoy said that a pilot for a county mental-health court opened this month.

“I set forth the idea of a mental health court to divert persons with mental-health issues from incarceration in cases dealing with nonviolent low-level crimes,” McCoy said. “ In 2020, we finally were able to convince all of our partners to coordinate and move this forward.”

 

Economic recovery

The pandemic “has dealt a devastating blow to many businesses throughout” the county, McCoy said on Monday, and to help deal with the economic fallout, he announced a preliminary five-point Albany County Economic Recovery Plan:

— Make Albany County the upstate manufacturing hub for state’s offshore wind program by driving private investment in ports through local and county industrial development agencies’ partnerships;

— Launch a county-wide broadband initiative;

— Issue a county challenge grant to the local technology sector to develop an online marketplace to connect shoppers to local businesses;

— Continue investment in the newly-created Advance Albany County Alliance, the local development corporation set up to create a business-friendly environment in Albany County; and

— Set up a workforce development pipeline.

 

Space for victims of domestic violence

McCoy said the need for the services offered by the Albany County Crime Victim and Sexual Violence Center only grew during the pandemic.

“People being confined to their homes has caused tension and anxiety. Children were not in school where they could talk to teachers and be seen by those trained in identifying potential abuse,” he said. “This created a tragic situation where there was significant underreporting, and even further tragic that the victims were remaining all day and night with their abuser.”

McCoy said the county must ensure that victims have somewhere to go that is private and where they feel protected and secure when reporting what has happened to them. 

McCoy announced that the county has “a property that has been identified and shall remain private for the safety of our clients,” and will receive $1 million in upgrades, and an “initiative that Albany County will be providing that space so that our crime victims’ advocates will be able to have that private interview space at times when those who are vulnerable need it most.”

More Regional News

  • “We enter Thanksgiving week and yes, as Americans, we are thankful. We’re thankful to live in this great country and to live in this state. But with that gratitude comes a sense of responsibility to others….,” said Governor Kathy Hochul as she signed a bill on Saturday making the Nourish New York program permanent. “This war against poverty is going to continue until no child goes to bed in the State of New York with a hungry stomach, never again in our state.”

  • The rubric of vaccination rates being lower in rural areas holds in Albany County as well, according to the state’s tracker, reported by ZIP code.

    As of Tuesday night, for people getting at least one shot, Coeymans Hollow has a rate of 47.5 percent; South Bethlehem, 58.1 percent; and Medusa, 68.3 percent. Clarksville and Berne were in the seventies while Preston Hollow and Westerlo were in the eighties.

    Meanwhile, Delmar, Slingerlands, Guilderland Center, Voorheesville and Altamont ZIP codes all have populations in which more than 99 percent have received a vaccination.

  • As hospitalization rates approach what they were last April, hospitals in target areas will have non-essential, non-urgent procedures limited. The Capital Region, with just 10 percent of its hospital beds available, is one of the state’s three worst regions. The other two are the Finger Lakes at 9 percent and Central New York at 8 percent.

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