Peace out, Cassadaga

Mayor reflects on 8 years of service

OBSERVER Photos by Amanda Dedie.
Cassadaga Mayor LeeAnn Lazarony bids adieu to the village (and its budget papers) at her last board meeting.

OBSERVER Photos by Amanda Dedie. Cassadaga Mayor LeeAnn Lazarony bids adieu to the village (and its budget papers) at her last board meeting.

CASSADAGA — Hours before her last board meeting as an official, LeeAnn Lazarony sat in her usual spot at the head of the board meeting table and reflected nostalgically on the past eight years of her life — years she spent in the demanding but rewarding role as mayor of the village of Cassadaga.

It all began when she was trustee on the board back in 2008, and had the unfortunate realization that she did not like the direction in which the board was going.

“I came in in the middle of the well project, and I didn’t really agree with what was going on with the board. It was a $5 million water project,” Lazarony explained. “I always said it like this: I’ve always wanted to drive a Maserati — I can afford a Chevy. The village of Cassadaga can afford a Chevy. We don’t need a Maserati. We need a water system that’s functioning. We need to replace everything we absolutely have to replace, and it should be at a cost that the village residents can afford.”

That became Lazarony’s main goal, if she were to be voted in as mayor — to secure a necessity for the village at an affordable cost to residents. The was the platform she ran on, and when she won, she got to work.

Eventually, Lazarony lowered the cost of the well project by about $1.5 million — but it wasn’t done without a care to what the necessities were. Everything was questioned. Why was this needed? What is the purpose of this? Lazarony knew that the village didn’t need a crazy high-tech, fancy water system — they just needed something functional, and that’s what the village ended up getting.

Then, of course, there were other things Lazarony wanted to accomplish. She wanted to improve the beach and help sustain the beach program while also keeping in mind that, unfortunately, the kids that once enjoyed such programs were not around anymore. Also, she recognized the importance of the fire department to the village, and wanted to help it accomplish its goals and make sure it had everything it needed to be successful.

But, more importantly, Lazarony wanted to make the village board an open entity to the village residents.

“I wanted the village board to be a welcoming place for the residents to come to for help or ideas, or a place where they weren’t going to be turned away, or made to feel like they didn’t matter,” said Lazarony. “I really wanted everyone to feel like this was their board, and they could come here and ask the village board for help, or consideration, or any of those things. … I just wanted to make Cassadaga better in any way that I could, and be represented very well.”

Over eight years, Lazarony has racked up a number of accomplishments that she has to feel proud of. On top of the complicated water project (whatever could go wrong, went wrong, said Lazarony), she feels Cassadaga is more recognized than before, and is more politically a part of the county.

Making the village board a friendlier place was a feat, as well, along with the support given to local agencies. The ability to expand the village while simultaneously lowering taxes, in terms of businesses and the moving of BOCES into the formerly empty school building on Maple Avenue, is a huge deal, too.

“I’m proud of the fact that there are all these businesses uptown. They weren’t there eight years ago, and I think one of the reasons that we have so many businesses in the village is because we kept our taxes low, and that we’re friendly to do business with,” Lazarony said.

However, with such good memories, and a dozen lines of resume material, sometimes you just have to know when it’s time to move on, which is the case for Lazarony. As much as she loved the job, it was time to walk away.

“One of the things about sitting in this seat is that you can’t make everybody happy. Not that you should necessarily make everybody happy — that’s not really the job. My job is to represent everybody equally,” Lazarony said.

“I guess that I’m just tired of people not understanding how government works sometimes,” she admitted. “It’s slow. You can’t have it now. It doesn’t work that way. We’re bound by laws and legislation about what we can and cannot do. People don’t necessarily understand that all the time. They think it’s easy, and you should just say, ‘Boom, let’s do it,’ and we do it without question, but we can’t do that.”

“… When I found myself being upset and aggravated over those things, I knew it was probably time to leave, because I don’t want to be aggravated and upset. I want Cassadaga to be the greatest place it could be, and I’m really grateful to the people who put the time and effort in to make it a great place. I guess I just felt it was unfair to the board, and to the residents, that I couldn’t be non-emotional about it anymore. It wasn’t a job. I was taking things too personal,” Lazarony confessed.

But now, Lazarony is almost overwhelmed with all of the free time she’ll have to pursue other interests, such as acting — she’ll be in a play soon in Jamestown — sewing and finding a number of other hobbies and interests to partake in.

“For me, being on the village board was very fulfilling, I really enjoyed every minute of being the mayor. But I want to do different things,” Lazarony said. “… I thought a lot about running for other things within the county and in the town, but it’s just like, I’m the kind of person where, if I can’t give it my all, I don’t want to do it. I don’t think it’s fair. So I think I’ll find a lot of different things to do with my time.”

However, she will still find time, during some down times in her schedule, to miss the interactions with community members as mayor, consistently going to board meetings every other Wednesday, and working with her fellow village officials — especially her deputy mayor.

“I’ve made a lot of friends here. I’m going to miss Jeff (Frick) a whole lot. I loved working with Jeff. Jeff and I made a really good team,” Lazarony gushed. “We came on the board pretty much together, and we’ve been together ever since. I think there was one year that he was off, and then I talked him into letting me reappoint him. He has been a loyal, loyal friend to me, and we’ve always had each other’s back. Even if we disagreed about something, it never became personal, and I respect that about Jeff so much.”

She also enjoyed being able to serve on the board with her daughter, Amanda Kalfas — a board which has a number of family ties. With her uncle and mother having served on the board, Lazarony got to follow in their footsteps, and pass on the torch to Kalfas.

“I’m glad I got to sit here and watch my daughter grow. She’s become such an amazing person outside of being my daughter. Just to watch her grow up and become a young woman and sit here and make decisions. I’m really proud of her,” Lazarony said.

“I’ll miss Roxanne (Astry, village clerk). I’ll even probably miss some of the phone calls I get complaining about things. … I think that this last year, we’ve had a really cohesive board. … I’m sad that we didn’t have that to begin with for the last eight years. The first couple of years were a real struggle, because it was really difficult to sit in this chair with some of the other trustees, because it was a lot of tension,” Lazarony shared. “So I’m proud that I stuck it out. There were a lot of times that I wanted to resign and say, ‘I don’t want to do this anymore.’ But I didn’t. I stuck it out, because that’s what I said I was going to do, so I wanted to finish it.”

Finish it, Lazarony did. Her final board meeting was Wednesday, and her last day as mayor will be March 31.

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