No optimism from Census figures

We can keep 18 districts, but we cannot field high school teams without combining athletes from those districts.

Numbers always provide a greater insight on truth than what area elected officials will tell you. Representatives here, far too often in the past, have painted a picture of progress and prosperity on the horizon.

They were sadly misguided then. But one thing is certain today: there are 5,000 fewer people living in Chautauqua County than there were in 2010. Our number of residents has fallen 4 percent in those six years to 129,504, according to the latest Census figures.

Many entities, including private-sector companies, are impacted by this decrease.

Even before 2010, school districts were struggling with enrollment declines. Consider this, as we revisit a premise from past columns. There are 18 school districts that serve the 129,504 county residents today. If you take away the two cities — Dunkirk and Jamestown, both with one district each — there are 16 school districts serving 90,000.

That is a major problem in terms of wasted space at a number of educational facilities that have had fairly recent capital projects, including Brocton and Forestville. It also does not bode well for the remaining residents, who are picking up the higher tax levies.

Municipalities also have lost population, including the city of Dunkirk and village of Fredonia. They too face few answers to the problems of declining residency.

Fredonia may be in worst shape. The State University of New York at Fredonia, one of its key economic engines, has seen enrollment fall to about 4,600. That’s 600 less students than five years ago.

Add to that a Village Board that has shown little, if any interest, in regional solutions despite escalating costs and you have a formula that is certain to include higher taxes as well as water and sewer fees.

Former area resident Phil Julian, who still comments on OBSERVER articles online, says it best. With the high tax burden and fees, residents are no longer voting on representation at the polling places. Instead, they are voting with their feet.

There’s plenty of reason for optimism, especially in Dunkirk and along the lakefront, but the Census — for now — is proving that those who have left are not moving back.

Troubled waters

Richard Alexander, chairman of the Local Economic Development committee with the Northern Chautauqua Community Foundation, took to the OBSERVER Opinion pages to voice disapproval of the cut in funding for the Great Lakes.

As part of President Donald Trump’s federal budget proposal, there are many items on the chopping block. Natural treasures, such as Lake Erie, just happens to be one of them with the 97 percent reduction in funding. “With 1.5 million jobs and $62 billion in wages tied to the Great Lakes, Congress must act to maintain these Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funds,” he wrote in his commentary on March 26.

Of even greater importance is the true value of water. It is, and always will be, the most precious commodity on Earth. It’s worth the investment.

John D’Agostino is OBSERVER publisher. Send comments to jdagostino@observertoday.com or call 366-3000, ext. 401.

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