FONDA – When Matt Ossenfort ran for Montgomery County executive, he called the new form of government an opportunity for a fresh start, and he said he would hit the ground running.
In his first State of the County address, delivered Friday morning at the Winner’s Circle Restaurant in Fonda, Ossenfort said the transition to the county legislature and elected executive form of government has been smooth and a lot already has been accomplished. He said he has “kick-started” contract negotiations and taken steps to modernize county government.
Under the new format, the 15-member Board of Supervisors has been replaced by a nine-member county legislature, with each member representing a legislative district. Only two of the nine legislators–Barbara Wheeler of District 7 and Legislature Chairman Thomas Quackenbush of District 2–are former supervisors; everyone else is new.
“It’s a heck of a moment in history with the first county legislature,” Ossenfort said. “We’re working well together. It’s been constructive. We came in with a charter that was vague. People were confused. We had to completely redesign that. Who has the authority to do what?”
Ossenfort has negotiated what he calls a “landmark inter-municipal agreement” with Fulton County to haul solid waste to the Mud Road Landfill. He also has begun putting together an overall plan for dealing with solid waste once the Montgomery-Otsego-Schoharie Solid Waste Management Authority ceases operation in April. Ossenfort will present his plan to the legislature on March 10.
He is working with Fulton County on other issues as well, including development of the regional business park in the Town of Mohawk.
“Regional cooperation is the way to go,” he said.
Ossenfort said “serious discussions of finances” are needed to keep the county’s taxes from going up and down from year to year as much as they have.
“One of my goals is to see this leveling out,” he said.
He is working with other county officials on a five-year financial plan to balance the budget, stabilize the tax levy and fund balance and incorporate a six-year capital plan, all while staying within the state-mandated tax cap. He will distribute capital plan request forms to department heads in March, he said.
Ossenfort said state mandates, many of which are not funded by the state, account for 92 percent of the county’s $26 million tax levy. That leave just over $2 million for all other services and functions of county government, he said.
“Let’s take a closer look at mandates,” he said. “How can we save money? Are we doing all we can to be efficient and protect vital public services? This isn’t about slashing and burning, but we still have to be good stewards.”
Ossenfort also said he wants to “change the culture of the county” by setting a “professional tone” in county government. That includes promoting respect, maintaining accountability, communicating and brainstorming, and encouraging improvement, he said.