Gowanda’s economic state trending in right direction
GOWANDA — As optimism goes up for Gowanda residents, the fiscal stress and monetary problems are going down.
What once was in the top five for most stress (meaning struggling financially) in all of the governments in New York, Gowanda is dropping steadily.
New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli’s office reports that Gowanda is in moderate stress still, but ranks 21st in all towns, cities and counties in New York state.
Last year, Gowanda was the third highest.
Gowanda Mayor David Smith and Village Financial Advisor Andy Burr added that Gowanda will be completely removed from the list, and this is just one step away from the flooded damages of the 2009 and 14 floods.
“We will be off the list and … Andy has been behind and spearheading a lot of the financial work that we’ve done here as a village,” Smith said. “I would like to give some credit to past Mayor (Heather) McKeever. She worked through that.
“And honest to God, three years ago, the village was borrowing $500,000 just to make payroll. Here we are with our operating budget in the black with healthy reserves in all of our areas and we even had a tax decrease in our last budget.”
And yet, the turnaround is just the beginning.
Nov. 5 epitomized the fear that is stricken in an area that is recovering from two 100-year floods. The area had a once-in-a-decade rainstorm that not only covered the streets and ditches, but Thatcher Brook in Gowanda.
Residents fear that it may happen again: the waters may surpass the allotment and flood the village.
“Every time it rains hard, I go and check on Thatcher Brook,” Smith said. “The sad part is that there are 20 people with me, every time. Everyone is looking and paying attention. It traumatized our community.”
The idea that silt-like mud will infiltrate the streets from a flood and cause another calamity leaves no one victimless in the village.
“I remember sitting in the school, I am an administrator at the school, and it was raining tremendously hard,” Smith said. “On the second floor of the middle school, it was hitting off the tin roof and kids were shivering on the thought of rain. Our community shivers every time there is that threat. As mayor, working with my team, we hope to take away that fear.”
After two 100-year floods, Gowanda struggled to put everything together. Thatcher Brook causes much of the issues for the village. And it has been for a while.
Village Historian Phil Palen once showed Smith a 1911 story that headlined something along the lines of: “Gowanda community gathers to study Thatcher Brook and its flooding issues.”
The Army Corp of Engineers has been assisting and Mayor Smith added that Thatcher Brook may be a former problem.
“That soon will be rectified,” Smith said. “We received the dam safety permit for Point Peter and now we are moving forward to do the work on the reservoir up there. That should be rectified by midway through 2018.”
Flood mitigation has been a top priority for Smith. The village has weekly phone conference calls with the Army Corp of Engineers. The mayor feels the administration is closing in on eliminating the flood plain or significantly reduce it and eliminate the need of flood insurance.
Smith, giddy with joy, said that the impact is unmatched for Gowanda residents.
“And most importantly, once that flood plain is eliminated — I am getting so excited — the property values will immediately go up on an estimated 23 to 27 percent, automatically,” Smith said. “That will mean the world for our community.”
Though the projects are still in the works and the conversations continue, Smith set a hard deadline with a smile.
“I am 100 percent confident by 2021, we will be out of danger of flooding,” he said.
FIXING THE FINANCES
“Just think: three years ago, we were borrowing $500,000 to make payroll,” Smith said.
That isn’t a fond memory to recollect, however, the reality behind that shows the improvements Gowanda made in recent years. Smith, with the assistance of former Mayor McKeever, has been taking steps to secure more funding for the area and guidelines to keep the village afloat.
One recent change came in the purchasing and procurement process, which was led by Village Trustee Carol Sheibley. It reflects public institution’s plan to form a budget then to have the recipient request for funding and have the board oversee the purchase.
Smith, who has been an administrator for 20 years, and 15 of them at Gowanda Central School District, has been working under this process and sees it as a solid checks and balances system.
Gowanda, under Mayor Smith, also received a hefty grant of $2.5 million under the Buffalo Billion II initiative’s Smart Growth Community Funds. Behind former Mayor Richard Klancer’s effort to make areas in Gowanda recognized as water fronts, Smith’s administration applied to enhance those water front locations.
The $2.5 million has a four-pronged effort and assisted by GARC, the Gowanda Area Redevelopment Corporation. Money will be applied to Gateway Park, Aldrich Street, Creekside Park waterfront and the Hollywood Theater completion.
For Gateway Park, the project will include a 150-foot overlook for Cattaraugus Creek, construction of a basketball court and turf, grading establishment for a softball field. The Creekside Park waterfront is located behind the Shop’n Save along Cattaraugus Creek. There, the village will aim to utilize the waterfront by possibly adding a kayak launch and create better accessibility to it. Other work there includes cleaning the area and improving the vegetation in the area.
Meanwhile, the Aldrich Street waterfront is on the opposing side of Hillis Field. It is a common angler location and will later have a better entrance and proposed parking lot. The Hollywood Theater was originally supposed to have work done to its parking lot, but the state argued that it doesn’t have a direct impact economically. Smith said that the money will go towards the revitalization of the theater and the theater will assist in fixing or regrading the parking lot which it shares with many businesses on West Main Street.
The work alone will enhance the village, but to receive it in a grant where state money is funding Gowanda helps the overhead for area residents.
“I love this community and I want to see it prosper and thrive,” Smith said. “The bottom line is, when you have a situation like the village has experienced and you have the ability to make it better with your efforts, it’s worth doing.”
Along with the $2.5 million, the grant opens Gowanda to the possibility of BOA, or Brownfield Opportunity Area, funding which could go toward revitalization of economically distressed areas and dormant, blighted parcels.
CIRCLING BACK TO GOWANDA
In a fast storm of events, the village has many projects either moving forward or gaining speed. One in particular is a roundabout at the main intersection on the Cattaraugus County side.
“We are in conversations with safe streets and smart streets, which is a regional organization that will help the village in terms of its pursuit of a potential roundabout,” Smith said. “If you look at our main intersection in town and you do a traffic study, the majority of our traffic that comes into Gowanda comes from the south to the north because they are accessing the Buffalo and Niagara Falls and Hamburg area.”
The one problem the village faces is that most pass through the village from South Water Street. The light only allows drivers to go right. The business district, however, is on the left and if drivers want something, they cannot get it without turning around.
“You can see them all and you might want to go to the RadioShack, McCormmick’s Hardware, Jesse’s Toys & Gifts and you may want to go to Rite Aid or Community Bank, you may want to go to those businesses, but you can’t because the traffic routes you to the right down the main drag down (Route) 62,” the mayor added.
If implemented, traffic can draw more attention to the businesses and may inform and sway more to shop locally.
The village also has kept workers contracts up to date. The SCIU workers, or the union for the department of public works in Gowanda, signed a five-year contract that Smith noted was “substantial” to keep everything running smoothly.
Gowanda has been putting efforts to improve the area by getting improved shared services and overall, the village has been on the rise.
“We have a proposed fire agreement with Perrysburg to share some services,” Smith topped off and added, “(We are) opening discussion with town of Persia. The operating budget is in the black, the reserves are healthy, we have a $3.3 million capital project for our sewage department and … improve our overall operating efficiency in there. (We are) saving an estimated $75,000 a year down the line and that’s real money for us.”