McCoy's mission is 'to serve those in need'

Enterprise file photo — Marcello Iaia

Daniel McCoy, Albany County’s executive, did not mention the Hilltowns in Monday’s State of the County address but — shown here on a listening tour last year in Berne — he says he visits the Hilltowns often, is well aware of their needs, and has been trying to meet them. He said the Hilltowns weren’t mentioned in his 40-minute speech simply because there wasn’t enough time. “When you do the State of the County,” he said, “after 15 minutes, you start to lose people.”

ALBANY COUNTY — County Executive Daniel McCoy, the day after delivering his third State of the County address, said his top priority out of all that he outlined is meeting the needs of kids.

“The most important thing is our youth, our next generation in Albany County,” he told The Enterprise on Tuesday. “My focus is on children.”

Lamenting the closure of the Thacher Park pool, which “brought two worlds together,” when city kids took buses to the Helderbergs, McCoy said, “I want to take Hilltown kids into the inner city and inner-city kids up to a maple farm in the Hilltowns.”

McCoy, a Democrat, itemized a series of initiatives that the county has recently undertaken like reviving Lawson Lake for youth programs, making community college courses available in Albany, educating parents on safe sleeping practices for their babies, checking car seats for proper installation, teaching new mothers about caring for their children, launching a bullying prevention campaign with a law against cyberbullying, and starting Project Growth.

“It’s the first in New York State,” said McCoy. Rather than having parents pay fines for youth who commit crimes, Project Growth helps offenders find jobs from which their victims get restitution.

McCoy concluded about the importance of youth initiatives, “It’s nurturing the children to make the best county we can so they want to stay here, work here, and raise their families here.”

Lee Carman, a Guilderland Republican and the minority leader in a legislature strongly dominated by Democrats, said Tuesday that he was disappointed in McCoy’s Monday address.

Carman noted that McCoy’s speech centered on social initiatives. Indeed, McCoy had started his address by stating that, fundamentally, the county’s mission is “to serve those in need and to create better opportunities, economic and otherwise, for our struggling middle class and poor, so as to improve the quality of life of our communities to make a better future for our children.”

McCoy noted that the average per-person annual income for Albany County residents is just over $20,000, and that more than 13 percent live below the poverty line with over 20 percent “relying on government assistance to feed their children and clothe them for school.”

“That’s not going to get us under the tax cap again,” said Carman of McCoy’s social initiatives. Carman said that, last year, getting the county budget under the levy limit was the heart of McCoy’s address.

Carman, a banker, was pleased that the 2014 county budget did come in under the state-set levy limit, although he voted against the budget because, he said, it “took $5 million from different savings areas to get under the cap.”

“I wish he had talked more about economic development issues,” said Carman. “I’m focused on tax savings for all Albany County.”

McCoy did stress partnerships with other government agencies and with private organizations, including the $66 million Albany Capital Center project, the Wellington Row redevelopment for housing and office space with Aeon Nexus, and the plan from Soldier On to develop a place for homeless veterans at the site of the old Ann Lee nursing home.

Going green

McCoy also stressed “green initiatives” like the law banning Styrofoam containers at chain restaurants, which he said he would like to expand to all county businesses. He has suggested a review of the three-year-old Comprehensive Solid Waste Study to deal collectively with recycling and waste disposal.

McCoy also called for the establishment of an Albany County Public Service Agency to “explore any and all options to reduce the energy carbon footprint of Albany County by developing and managing renewable energy projects at existing county facilities.”

The Enterprise asked McCoy if the county — perhaps the new public service agency — would get involved with the proposed citing of power lines to bring upstate electricity to New York City or a gas pipeline extension slated to cut through the Hilltowns, New Scotland, and Bethlehem.

McCoy responded, “As technology is changing, we have to stay up with changes. We have to look at the impact on the environment and people. With power lines and gas lines, we have to make sure, first and foremost, it is safe.”

Asked if he thought citizens had the right to know what sort of hazardous materials are traveling through the county on trains — more frequently as the Port of Albany has become a hub for the Bakken crude oil boom in North Dakota, McCoy said, “We have a right to know what is gong through our backyards.”

He went on to say, since he served in the military, he could understand Homeland Security issues and, further, since he had worked as a fireman, he also understood the need to know what is being transported.

“How do we respond to an emergency situation if we don’t know what’s in there?” McCoy asked.

McCoy also said he would be making an announcement on Wednesday about crude oil processing. Yesterday, he issued an executive order, declaring a moratorium on the expansion of the processing of crude oil at the Port of Albany, pending a public health investigation by the Albany County Department of Health.

Global Partners is planning to expand its processing at the port, which has become a hub for the Northeast. Under the state’s Public Health law, the county health department is “empowered to address threats to public health or safety,” according to a release from McCoy’s office.

McCoy’s executive order also requires the health department to work with the sheriff’s office and other county departments to determine the impact a large-scale disaster could pose to the public.

Rural concerns

Deborah Busch, a Hilltown Republican recently named minority whip, said of McCoy’s State of the County speech, “I’m very concerned the Hilltowns weren’t addressed. We’re not his focus…We have real needs in our rural communities.”

Busch, as an example, cited a Wheels to Work program, run through Catholic Family Charities, that the county legislature voted this week to become involved in. Busch said, when she asked how many Hilltown residents had gotten loans for vehicles, she was told no one was approved in the Hilltowns; one was approved in Altamont, one in Voorheesville, and the rest in Albany.

Busch said she had gotten a call from a man who had lost his job, had his truck repossessed, and was guaranteed another job but had no transportation; he didn’t want to move because he has a child in the Berne-Knox-Westerlo School District.

“He was being evicted. He had to go to the Department of Social Services for an interview. We have no bus route. He had no way to get there...They encouraged him to move to the city,” said Busch.

She went on, “This has been a rough winter. People call because they can’t pay for heat; they are running out of wood…We need a social-services outreach program right in the Hilltowns, to help with food stamps and HEAP, something to help you get over the hump.”

McCoy responded through The Enterprise that he visits the Hilltowns often, is well aware of their needs, and has been trying to meet them.

He said the Hilltowns weren’t mentioned in his 40-minute speech simply because there wasn’t enough time. “When you do the State of the County,” he said, “after 15 minutes, you start to lose people.”

He noted that the county had partnered to try to re-launch a Hilltown food program in Westerlo but it closed because of lack of participation.

“We’re talking about probation outreach in Clarksville,” he said, “instead of dragging them down to Albany.”

He also said that a county case worker already “goes out once a month to the Berne senior center so they don’t have to come downtown to Albany” to apply for food assistance programs or HEAP (the Home Energy Assistance Program).

McCoy said, too, “We’re getting ready to open a fishing area,” and he noted, referring to a van available to elderly Knox and Berne residents who sign up for it, “We got the bus service back.”

McCoy concluded, “There are over 400 farms in Albany County. We’ve been pushing farmers’ markets.”

Ongoing issues

One thing Busch and McCoy agreed on was the need to do away with unfunded state mandates.

“Unfunded mandates have a stranglehold on county budgets,” said Busch, stating that 90 percent of Albany County’s budget is governed by mandates.

“How do you vote ‘no’ when it’s a state law?” she asked.  “Our hands are tied. We need major changes at the state level…The state requires social-service programs. Let the counties decide. Albany County is a generous county,” she concluded, and it could provide well for its citizens without the state mandates.

McCoy thought Busch’s 90-percent figure may be high but he acknowledged the mandates account for the bulk of the county budget. “There are 43 unfunded mandates,” he said, “We can’t contest it.”

He named mandated programs from Medicaid and foster care to preschool and probation,

“They regulate what we pay,” he said of the state.

McCoy noted that, when the tax-cap law was passed, there was talk that, to make it work, mandate relief would have to be adopted along with it. “I’m still waiting,” he said of the mandate relief.

Last year alone, McCoy said, the county cut 20 jobs from its workforce of roughly 2,300. Since 1995, he said, about 900 county jobs have been cut.

McCoy’s advice for the state is, “Cap your programs at 2 percent like you’re capping us.”

Busch, a nurse manager, also praised Albany County’s new partnership with Schenectady County Community College that allows Albany County residents to take SCCC courses in Albany at the county office building.

Since Albany County didn’t have its own community college, towns had to pay toward students attending an out-of-county community college like Hudson Valley in Troy, said Busch. “The partnership gives more options,” she said. “I’m encouraging students to look at the Albany County site for nursing.”

In his address, McCoy said that Albany County is projected to pay $10.3 million for all community-college tuition this year, but, with the SCCC partnership and chargeback reform, he anticipates “significant savings” over the next several years.

McCoy, in his speech, supported the state’s increasing minimum wage. “New Yorkers who work full-time should not be poor,” he said, asserting that a higher minimum wage would “break the cycle of poverty” and lessen the fiscal burden on municipalities for public assistance.

Busch said she is conflicted about the call for raising minimum wage. While she acknowledges it is “difficult to make a living” with rising prices, she has concerns about the added burden on “mom-and-pop businesses” already stressed with more health-care costs.

Finally, McCoy briefly addressed the county nursing home in Monday’s speech. He had initially wanted to have the facility run by a private company but finally relented to the majority wishes of the legislature.

“After months of discussion and negotiation,” said McCoy in his address, “I agreed to hire a new administrator for the nursing home to continue running the facility while the legislature creates a Local Development Corporation.”

The county budget funds the home through Sept. 30, when McCoy hopes the LDC will take over operations. “Such action will put Albany County on more stable financial ground,” McCoy said, “while ensuring that our nursing home residents receive the care they need.”

“Dan was hoping we could have a public-private partnership,” said Busch, stating that the nursing home and the jail are the most costly institutions in the county’s budget. “That would have been best.”

She said of the current system, “It’s another layer of government.”

Busch also said, “Forty salient points are not answered,” and concluded of McCoy, “He talks about downsizing employees and how hard they work. Can we take on another burden?”

On the topic of downsizing, The Enterprise asked McCoy if the 39-member legislature, with the highest ratio of legislators to citizens in the state, should be cut back. Each legislator represents roughly 7,500 citizens.

“In January 2012,” he responded, “I said I was in favor of downsizing and term limits.”

That is still his stance, said McCoy, concluding, “I spent 12 years in the legislature. I won’t put a number on it.”

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