RENSSELAER COUNTY EXECUTIVE STEVE MCLAUGHLIN STATE OF THE COUNTY ADDRESS TO RENSSELAER COUNTY REGIONAL CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
JANUARY 12, 2023
Good afternoon and thank you to everyone at the Rensselaer County Regional Chamber of Commerce for your welcome, your support and your leadership.
Happy New Year, and best wishes to all for a tremendous 2023!
We are ready for a great 2023 and look forward to new success, new opportunity, new challenges and new partnerships in our great and growing county. We have seen unprecedented success and positive change, and we are looking to strengthen our partnership moving forward.
During 2022 and in previous years, Rensselaer County has reached new heights and achieved great things. We dared to do – dared to take ideas and turn them into action, innovation and accomplishment.
We are focused on doing the same in the new year, and to broadcast the message loudly throughout New York State and the entire nation that Rensselaer County is the place to do business, create jobs, invest, dream, and achieve.
Major growth? We have done it and are ready for more.
Creation of new jobs? A promise fulfilled and we look forward to more in 2023.
Reducing property taxes? We are leaders across the state in reducing property taxes, with five consecutive property tax reductions.
Expansion of services? Already, parts of our ambitious plan to improve services and efficiency have been fulfilled and our work continues to benefit residents today and tomorrow.
Protection of your quality of life and personal freedoms? No one makes it a higher priority.
Where we have encountered adversity, we have responded with accomplishment. Where there has been a challenge, we have answered with competence and compassion. Where there have been obstacles, we have created opportunity.
That same hopeful energy, the focus on doing more while spending less, of not accepting excuses when there is room for excellence and advancement, will continue this year. Each of you has been a partner in our success, and we will need each of you to continue on this journey.
Last year, I reported on the major success seen by our county. I told you of our success in reducing property taxes, our wins in securing major economic development projects and job creations, the strong, effective and common-sense approach during the pandemic and the protection of quality of life and personal freedoms.
Rensselaer County sometimes stood alone in these decisions, particularly the route we chose and that we found successful during the pandemic. Sometimes, the battles were lonely but the fights and the effort were worth it. And our success cannot be denied and should not be ignored by anyone.
In fact, we are not being ignored. Rensselaer County is poised for greatness and we remain ready to move our county forward during 2023.
This year, we will take the Rensselaer County success story to new levels. This is our time, just as we have made the last several years a new and productive chapter in our great county’s history. Rensselaer County has played a pivotal role so many times, in the founding of our country, in the struggle for individual rights, during the Industrial Revolution, defense of our democracy, and helping spur the technological revolution. Now, we are engaged in major effort to transform county government while bringing new prosperity and opportunity for our county.
Let me start with some important news for the people in this room. Rensselaer County is becoming recognized as a leader across New York State in reducing property taxes and that continued this fall for this year’s budget. We adopted our fifth consecutive budget with a property tax decrease, with the combined amount of the five tax reductions lowering county property taxes by 27 percent. The 2023 county budget is also our fifth consecutive budget with strong bipartisan support.
Property taxpayers in Rensselaer County are now paying an amount comparable to what they paid in 2002. In 2018, when I took office, they county tax rate was $5.84 per thousand. The tax rate now is $4.24 per thousand. Again, that is a 27% tax rate reduction.
Those five property tax reductions encourage growth and investment in our county and we are seeing the results of that work.
Results like our sales tax collections. In the 2021 fiscal year, we reached an important milestone, generating over $100 million in revenues for the first time in county history. In fact, our revenues for 2021 came in at $110 million, and significantly exceeded our previous total of revenues of approximately $96 million. Growth from 2020 to 2021 was in double-digits and for 2022, we are on track for growth of about 10 percent. That is very encouraging, especially in the face of what we can consider to be a recession during the second half of 2022.
For the 2022 fiscal year, we are on pace to do even better. As of today, we have collected $108.6 million in revenues, with three payments remaining for sales tax collections. Outstanding! The boom in our sales tax revenues show clearly that more and more are looking to Rensselaer County when it comes to shopping, dining and major purchases. The expansion of retail opportunities in North Greenbush, Brunswick and East Greenbush, a strong performance by residents shopping from home, and a growing restaurant, tavern and food delivery business across the county are all positive factors.
The growth in sales tax benefits all of us. The revenues are shared between the county and every city, town and village in Rensselaer County. That means more protection for taxpayers, stronger services and more stability at every level of our local government. Every dollar spent here is an investment in our county for today and tomorrow. Every dollar spent is also a recognition of the work done to create a climate for growth that is producing remarkable results.
Our outstanding performance on sales tax is a direct result of our policies and efforts to lower property taxes, encourage and support investment and promote the great things happening in the county, and we are taking full advantage of every opportunity extended to us.
County finances are incredibly strong. Interest income earned by the county in 2022 is the highest ever recorded by us. The effective management of county savings and our accounts helped generate $1.5 million last year. We changed our reliance from CDs to more productive T-bills and are generating better returns. We are optimistic that the returns could be even greater next year.
My administration is also making progress on addressing county debt. During the past five years, as we were reducing taxes each of those years, we were reducing debt by over $41 million. My team also wisely re-funded bonds to provide an additional $3.7 million in savings.
Even when we have issued new debt in the ensuing months, we have done so carefully. The county has used savings to reduce indebtedness and pay a significant portion of costs to strengthen financial position.
I ran for this office promising to modernize and upgrade this county in every area. My approach, my focus on winning and advancing our county is now being extended to our county facilities. Last year, I announced an ambitious plan to make our county offices and buildings more accessible and efficient. Now, that plan is being realized and it represents a new age for Rensselaer County.
The Reimagine Rensselaer County facilities effort has transformed our county facilities and ability to serve residents. Significantly, it has also reduced a long-standing reliance on rented space, which is expensive and less reliable over the long run. Relying on rented space to house services we know we will still be responsible for providing 25 or 50 years from now makes absolutely no financial sense. I recognized the need for a better solution, and the Reimagine Rensselaer County Facilities effort was launched.
In mid-December, we moved a number of offices from the County Office Building in downtown Troy to our new space at 99 Troy Road. The 99 Troy Road building was the former home of Rose and Kiernan and is a prominent property, and the start of a new chapter for how our county will be presented to the world. The cost was a reasonable $5 million and additional funds were appropriated for needed revisions, improvements and upgrades.
The offices being relocated to 99 Troy Road including my offices, Finance, Budget, Tax Services, County Attorney and others. Cornell Cooperative Extension has also moved to East Greenbush. We will be locating other offices into 99 Troy Road in the coming months. There will be a showcase for visitors, and offices for the County Legislature and a new and expanded legislative chambers. Stay tuned for news on an open house.
As we are moving offices into 99 Troy Road, we are beginning to renovate the County Office Building, renovating and improving offices for Health and Mental Health and creating a new home for many of the offices for our Department of Social Services. The DSS offices are moving over the coming months from Flanigan Square. Our Probation Department will move from Flanigan Square to the nearby Health and Sciences building adjacent to the County Office Building.
Our DMV office will remain in Troy but work has begun on a satellite DMV at 99 Troy Road we are convinced will be as busy as the longtime Troy location. The new DMV satellite will be easily accessible to residents across southern Rensselaer County but also close enough to those living in Albany County and northern Columbia County.
The new offices and renovated facilities will expand access, convenience and efficiency. County offices and facilities will be located on county-owned property to a greater degree than at any time in county history and provide for us a stable platform and foundation to ensure important and needed services are provided and maintained.
Another aspect of the ambitious Reimagine Rensselaer County Facilities effort is the development of a new Troy senior center in downtown at City Station. The new senior center will replace the long-standing senior center on Third Street, located in a former Masonic lodge but sold to an IT company. The new senior center will open a new chapter in how Rensselaer County provides service to those who helped build and support our county.
Rensselaer County operates five senior centers, including Troy, Schodack, Grafton, Rensselaer and Hoosick Falls. Our county, in fact, is unique in that we provide services directly and do not simply contract the work out. The meals and the fellowship provided at the senior centers is valuable and provides an important connection for seniors across our county. So many of our seniors look forward to the meals, the meetings and the talks at our senior centers.
But we also recognize that our seniors are changing, becoming more active and involved. We want seniors to have technology accessible to them, be able to watch movies, exercise, learn about new ideas and inventions, and even have the opportunity to teach and give back. The Troy senior center will be a reflection of that commitment, and include state of the art equipment and technology, a bright space that is convenient and accessible, a look that is inviting and modern, and located near the heart of downtown. We are nearing completion of this new senior center in just weeks and look forward to welcoming you all for the grand opening.
The Troy senior center will also be a start to a remake of other senior centers. The Rensselaer center and Hoosick Falls centers will be the next to get attention, and eventually take their place with the Troy center, and the more recently constructed Schodack and Grafton centers, as a place we can be proud to showcase to our seniors. As we near completion of the Troy senior center, we look forward to the start of work to maintain and strengthen this important service for those who given and sacrificed so much to move our county forward.
We are happy to be completing the long-awaited county Emergency Services Training Complex. In fact, we will be holding a ribbon-cutting at the new complex on Macha Lane in North Greenbush one week from today. Completion of this project ensures state of the art training for our first responders, fire service, EMS and law enforcement.
The original complex was closed nearly a decade ago following years of heavy use. When I sought election as Executive, I pledged to construct a new training complex. We are fulfilling that promise with a training facility that is modern, effective and accessible, where the latest in training and techniques will be provided for those who do so much every day to protect and serve those who live and work in this county.
I have often said that our county owes a great debt to our first responders that simply can never be repaid. But our new emergency services training complex will be at least a down payment, and help to recognize our gratitude and respect for the bravery and dedication of those who answer the call to duty and stand to save lives and property around the clock.
The new training complex will allow our emergency services to train in various conditions and scenarios, to welcome multiple units at the same time, provide state of the art exercises that help our fire, police and ambulance teams be prepared and ready. Our emergency services take a back seat to no one when it comes to service and dedication, and our new training complex will ensure they are also second to none when it comes to being ready to respond.
We are improving in other areas. It may not be the most exciting project in county history, but we are in the process of making improvements to our county storage facility in Schodack. The storage facility has been a major improvement for county government since my team incorporated the facility at the start of my service as County Executive. County and local governments have a high threshold for the storage and retention of documents. Before the addition of the county storage facility, we were always scrambling and scraping. Documents were cared for in basements, in temporary storage areas, in buildings not owned by the county, and other spaces. We have made retention and protection of records a priority and the further improvements at the county storage facility will help us in that important mission.
We have seen Rensselaer County take a star turn in HBO’s The Gilded Age. The Gilded Age has featured much of what we see everyday in the Collar City and Troy, featuring historic properties in downtown Troy, Washington Park and some of Lansingburgh. Our historic County Court House has been featured in the series, and has earned attention from across the world. The Court House is one of the most prominent buildings in the region, and we are proud to be stewards of this noted structure.
Over two decades ago, at the direction of then-County Executive Henry Zwack, the county engaged in an important and transformational restoration project at the Court House. The Court House in the 1990s was known for dark hallways, a failing roof, court proceedings sometimes interrupted by faulty lighting and water dripping into PVC buckets. The elevator at the facility was an improvised and temporary structure that marred the center hall of the Court House and often was out of service.
The 1990s restoration engaged a great local resource, historic architect John Waite, who helped restore the Court House to glory, and much in the same condition as when the Court House was first opened in 1898 and we are continuing that effort. John Waite is again engaged with the county as we resume restoration and maintenance work, and ensure the Court House remains a prominent and functioning part of our county for generations to come.
Infrastructure improvements have been a top priority of my administration to help continue the record investment and job creation we have seen over the past several years. Too many opportunities have been missed over the generations because of a lack of water or sewer service. We are working to change that reality and provide a solid and responsible platform for growth in our county.
The county has already engaged in an effort to extend infrastructure in Schodack. The county is utilizing federal ARPA funds to extend water and sewer along Route 9 in the town. This will create opportunity in several key areas, in vicinity to the major Amazon center on Route 9, near the Routes 9 & 20 split. I believe the Route 9 corridor can be a site for successful and meaningful job creation and business location projects in the years to come.
I am encouraged by opportunities in the area around Exit 12 in Schodack. There is significant and available acreage in the area around Exit 12. The lack of infrastructure hampers development. There is ongoing interest in the area from significant employers, along with opportunity to capture traffic, much of which travels a short distance into Columbia County. We envision the Exit 12 area as an area of opportunity and this infrastructure project will help make more investment and job creation a reality in the area.
The county is also utilizing state funds secured several years ago to extend sewer service along Maple Hill Road in Schodack from the high school to Route 9. This will improve important quality of life services for residents on the important road.
We recognize other important infrastructure projects in the county. The Town of North Greenbush will be using federal and local funds to extend water service on State Route 43 from Snyder’s Lake. This will encourage investment and protect quality of life services in that important area.
There has been significant investment and job creation in the Exit 8 area. But infrastructure is still lacking on major areas of Route 4. Particularly, the area between the area near the intersection of Bloomingrove Drive and the area near the intersection of Williams Road with Route 4 is in need of infrastructure improvements.
Today, I am proposing a study of infrastructure needs in this area of Route 4, and potentially utilizing federal ARPA monies to help with the extension of service in the area. This study will determine the possibilities for further investment and job creation in areas not yet developed, along with potential improvements for quality of life in the area. The improvements would follow our Corridors of Growth idea and could be a potential major boost to our economic interests.
In recent years, we saw the news about cases of PFOA discovered in the Town of Poestenkill. Poestenkill is a growing and scenic community, and we appreciate the many contributions of residents. Town leaders are working to establish a water line to ensure safe and clean water that residents today and tomorrow can rely on.
Rensselaer County is interested in helping. Just as we are doing for Route 4, I am announcing today our engineers will review potential participation by the county to support the construction of the water line and bring the project to a successful completion.
The work to improve important infrastructure is accompanied by work to support the Rensselaer County Sewer District. The sewer district has been an important component in many of our economic development projects, including Regeneron and retail developments in southern Rensselaer County. The sewer district is overseen by our County Legislature. As part of the Reimagine Rensselaer County Facilities project, we worked with the legislative team to allocate $6 million for needed upgrades, improvements and maintenance.
This new funding, which also comes from the federal ARPA program, will help ensure our sewer district has the capacity to support economic expansion and efforts to protect health, safety and the environment. The county Sewer District was the first to complete a state-ordered consent order to restrict combined sewage overflows from entering the Hudson River.
In my previous visits with the Chamber, and in previous State of the County addresses, I have spoken of corridors of growth in our county. Our infrastructure work will bolster and strengthen these corridors of growth and position our county to continue to be at the top of any list for new businesses, job creators and innovators. So too does our work to reduce property taxes and expand the important county services that support investment, including the paving of many, many miles of roads in our county. As I have said often, we are just getting started, and that is especially true as our county readies to continue to play our strong hand in 2023.
I just spoke of road miles being paved. We continue to set records for the paving of road miles, with over 200 miles of roads paved during the past five years. That means that in just five years, nearly two-thirds of the county’s 300 plus miles of roads have been maintained or improved. We are particularly proud of this accomplishment, including the 70 miles paved in 2021 following 50 miles of roads paved in 2020. It should be noted these roads were improved following major storms that created damage and destruction in our county, and during a pandemic that caused many other areas to roll back important paving and public works projects. Thank you again to our outstanding county Highway Department team and our paving partners.
Just as we are paving record miles of county roads, we are also upgrading equipment. We have purchased nine new tandem dump trucks with plows and several pick-up trucks with plows, three tractors and three loaders, and recently made a major upgrade with the addition of a vac truck. There are also plans to reopen the Cropseyville garage on Route 2 to help improve response times in the Brunswick area.
There is important and meaningful work ahead. We appreciate partnerships with members of the County Legislature, who have overwhelmingly and on a bi-partisan basis supported our budgets and major initiatives and projects. Thank you to members of the Legislature here today including our Chairwoman Kelly Hoffman, Vice Chair Bob Loveridge, Vice Chair for Finance Rob Bayly and Legislator Leon Fiacco.
There are opportunities ahead, a mission to fulfill and challenges that we will meet with excellence and outstanding effort.
We will be aided in this work with new leadership. Rensselaer County won the redistricting lottery with Congresswoman Elise Stefanik being assigned to represent the majority of our county. Elise is a dynamo and has national level clout as a top-ranking member of the new Republican congressional majority. She will be able to provide attention and hopefully resources to our county as we look to improve infrastructure and quality of life services.
My team has already forged a close working relationship with Elise and her team. They have impressed us as they navigate the highest levels of national politics while focusing on constituent issues and requests that do not generate headlines or social media traffic but are important just the same. They focus on issues big and small with equal importance and effort.
I can report one time when Elise and her staff came to the rescue. The withdrawal from Afghanistan was messy to say the least and many allies were left behind. The family of one county employee were among those trapped behind the borders and subject to abuse by the Taliban. Desperate to help his family, he reached out to others with no response. Elise and her team went into action and responded immediately. She also was the only Congressional member to respond to Senator Jake Ashby’s Afghanistan translator who was also brought to safety. Lives were literally saved by the quick and compassionate work by her team.
That was our introduction in Rensselaer County to Elise Stefanik and the hard work and attention displayed by Elise and her team.
My team and Elise’s team speak often and we are encouraged by their responsiveness. We are particularly honored she has chosen the new Rensselaer County offices at 99 Troy Road in East Greenbush for her flagship office. There has not been a congressional office in Rensselaer County in 20 years, when former Congressman Michael McNulty operated an office in downtown Troy. Before that, it was the 1980s when former Congressman Jerry Solomon ran an office in East Greenbush. This will mean great convenience and access for residents seeking help on issues ranging from Social Security to veteran benefits, along with help on county issues. We look forward to a working relationship with Elise at our new county offices starting in just a few weeks. Thank you to Michael Zembricki from Elise’s office for joining us here today.
Congratulations also go to members of the county leadership team taking new roles in the new term. In just several years, Jake Ashby has moved from County Legislator to State Assemblyman to State Senator. We will look to Jake to continue his good work and efforts on behalf of upstate residents in the Senate. Jake has already done good work to support veteran services. Scott Bendett has founded a successful business and been an investor in other important ventures and is moving from County Legislator to the State Assembly. He will be an important voice on creating opportunity, supporting education and protecting quality of life in our county and across upstate. Thank you to Scott Bendett for joining us today.
We look to the state to largely let us continue our good work without unnecessary delay or obstacles. One major priority that we believe cannot be debated is the need for a repeal of bail reform, which has created danger and less safety in too many neighborhoods across our state. Both the problems and the goals of bail reform can be addressed by simply restoring judicial discretion. If we trust our judges, we should also trust them to make the right decisions when it comes to bail issues.
There also needs to be action taken to repeal the Halt Act and other measures that have made our correctional institutions less safe. Just this month, we witnessed a violent attack on one of our Rensselaer County corrections officers that caused injury. Repeal of these measures should be a top priority for our state leaders.
There is important and significant work ahead. I will also be dealing with challenges, as was recently announced. In the fall, I learned I had prostate cancer. My team of doctors believe they caught the illness early and are mapping out a comprehensive course for treatment. Thankfully, I am tested regularly and that will hopefully make a difference.
So as I map out an optimistic and ambitious agenda for Rensselaer County, work that will need your faith and support to be successful, I also urge everyone here to get tested. Take time to let your doctor check you out and ensure you have a future that is both successful and healthy.
In short, make sure you are here next year. I will be here and look forward to giving you even more good and important news about Rensselaer County next year.
We have weathered storms and surpassed challenges placed before us. That will be true in 2023. There will be difficulty and opportunity ahead. We will succeed. We will continue on the ambitious path to greatness we laid out five years ago.
Our mission is simple: We are working to fully realize our great county’s enormous potential. For too long, we were passed over for job creation and investment, and saw opportunity pass by or even be denied here. We are changing that, and working tirelessly to improve our county.
For Rensselaer County, now is our time. A time of prosperity and growth, a time of innovation and excellence, a time when the decisions made today produce greatness tomorrow. We will not be deterred or distracted from our mission.
As I have said before, we are just getting started. Let’s get to work!