Rensselaer County Showed Best During Pandemic, and Is Continuing to Work for Greatness, Says County Executive Steve McLaughlin in State of the County address for 2021
Rensselaer County has shown its best in responding to the pandemic, and successes by the county in 2020 create a path to recovery and revitalization, County Executive Steve McLaughlin said during the annual State of the County address tonight.
The county was able to adopt a third consecutive county budget unanimously and with a slight property tax reduction, pave 50 miles of roads, see historic job creation and other service improvements and cost-savings despite the challenges created by the pandemic, McLaughlin told legislators.
“Our county not only maintained important services, we improved and strengthened our commitment to our residents. Our commitment to our residents can be seen throughout the services we provide and the work we do every day. We work to reduce the burden on our taxpayers and create opportunities for future growth and investment. We provide services to comfort, guide and care. And we provide services to ensure our quality of life and the strength of our communities,” said McLaughlin.
“Just as our response to the pandemic demanded our best, our continuing fight for health, safety and eventually, full recovery, also demands our full commitment, talent and strength,” added McLaughlin.
McLaughlin also credited a team of “every day angels” serving with the county for providing an effective response to the COVID-19 outbreak that arrived in the county one year ago. Departments throughout county government provided care and attention on an unprecedented level seven days a week, McLaughlin noted.
“We can be proud that our county met the challenge and wrote a bright new chapter in our history. When there was fear and doubt, we responded with compassion and common sense,” said McLaughlin.
The work of several departments in responding to the pandemic and expanding services was noted by McLaughlin during the State of the County.
“Our Health Department, led by Mary Fran Wachunas, and other areas of county government performed heroically and provided help and hope when it was needed the most. The Health Department team spent days, nights and weekends providing information and comfort to county residents when it was needed most. It can be noted the Health Department and my team has only had one day off since the start of the pandemic,” said McLaughlin.
“Last February, we delivered our 4 millionth home delivered meal to our seniors. When the pandemic forced many to remain home, I directed that our home delivered meals program be expanded. Before the start of COVID-19, our county was delivering 425 meals each day. At the peak of the pandemic, we were providing 1600 home delivered meals to seniors. Today, we are still above normal figures, with close to 700 seniors receiving meals. That is outstanding work by Commissioner for the Aging Carol Rosbozom and her team, and the many community partners and volunteers who helped with this effort,” said McLaughlin.
“Early on, we encountered difficulty in securing tests from the state for residents. In fact, New York State ignored our request. We went ahead anyways, and that led to Rensselaer County making the greatest investment in testing in the Capital Region. We are also now approaching 220,000 tests for county residents to help beat back the outbreak. We have always viewed testing and vaccines as the road map back to a quality of life and a strong economy and have made what we believe is a vital investment in the health and safety of our residents,” noted McLaughlin.
McLaughlin said he was proudest of his administration’s response to the directive issued by the Cuomo administration last March forcing COVID-19 positive residents into nursing homes. McLaughlin responded simply when confronted with the letter.
“I read the order, the worst I have ever read in my career in public service, and responded very clearly and simply: Not here, not now, not ever. I defied that order. In fact, I was the only County Executive in the state to defy the order, saving lives at our Manor,” said McLaughlin.
“We did not back down. We knew what was right. We knew what our job was – to protect those entrusted to us at the Van Rensselaer Manor. We did our job, even in the face of tremendous pressure,” added McLaughlin.
McLaughlin discussed the American Rescue Plan, which was adopted by the Senate and scheduled to be under consideration by the House of Representatives. Under the plan, the county would receive $31 million. McLaughlin said he has had conversations with representatives of Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer’s office and notes that parameters and rules for the funding are still be worked out.
– The county has performed strongly with sales tax. In 2019, the county led the state in sales tax growth. Numbers for 2020 were comparable to 2019 numbers and the first months of 2021 have seen Rensselaer County lead other counties in the region.
– The ER Anywhere initiative introduced by McLaughlin to provide telemedicine services to Medicaid recipients created a savings of approximately $2 million in 2020.
– The county is set to begin construction on a new county emergency services training tower and facility, to replace a county training tower closed for several years.
– The county is readying for replacement of the “Buffalo Bridge” on County Route 4 (Van Hoesen Road) near the historic Mesick farm, once final approvals from the railroad are received.
– The county has received grant funding to allow for extension of a sewer line along Maple Hill Road out to State Route 9 in Schodack to further support growth and development.
– McLaughlin called on state leaders again to redo the controversial Bail Reforms he said jeopardize county residents.
– The Van Rensselaer Manor nursing home earned $422,000 in federal funding for meeting high health and safety standards.
– The county has assisted the County Legislature with management of the county Sewer District by extending engineering services to the district, helping create a savings while maintaining service.
– The county again generated significant savings for personnel and purchasing in 2020, following similar savings in 2019 and 2018.
The work by the county to meet the challenges of the pandemic and a continuing effort
“And while 2021 is still young, we will also recognize real signs our county is moving past the turbulence of the last year. There is considerable and strong interest in new investment and job creation in our county and for the first month of this year, Rensselaer County led the region for sales tax growth, just as we did for 2019. We are perhaps the only county in the state with a 100 percent rate of delivery for vaccinations. And we are being recognized as correct in much of our decision-making during the pandemic, particularly regarding our nursing home,” said McLaughlin.
“All of that good work is a foundation for our future, and our way back to normalcy. During the coming months, we will again face challenges, including some discussed here and some that are unexpected. We have shown that united and focused our county will not be denied our chance for prosperity and a better quality of life for all,” said McLaughlin.
“On the day I took my oath of office, I said: “I fought hard to get to this office, and I want you to know I will fight even harder for Rensselaer County.” I believe we have done just that during a year of unprecedented challenge. I stand before you proud of our accomplishments, and even prouder of the way our county came together to protect our own and accomplish important and outstanding goals and achievements. Let us continue to make history together for Rensselaer County,” added McLaughlin.