Editor's note: This is the second in a series of stories highlighting the first year in office for members of the Chautauqua County Legislature.
By ERIC TICHY
OBSERVER Mayville Bureau
MAYVILLE - For eight members of the Chautauqua County Legislature, June marked the halfway point in their first year in office.
And for those freshman members, the last six months have been marked with a number of hot-button issues - including Chautauqua Lake funding, a $10 million fund balance surplus and continued talks surrounding the County Home.
With 2013 budget talks heating up, and in the midst of a possible $13 million budget deficit next year, county lawmakers will have plenty on their plates.
Democrat Bob Whitney represents Jamestown in the 15th district in the city's southwest region. While running for election last year, the Jamestown High School and Jamestown Community College graduate called for a "fresh look" to deal with state mandates.
Vince Horrigan, R-Bemus Point, replaced long time legislator Dick Babbage in the 17th district seat. Horrigan was the executive director for the American Red Cross of Southwestern New York for a decade before his retirement. He was with the group for 12 years.
Both legislators were asked the same five questions regarding their first six months while serving on the County Legislature.
How would you describe your first five months in the legislature?
Horrigan: "It clearly is a true honor to represent the people of the district and serve on the district. It's also a responsibility to serve. I'm excited for the opportunity and I'm proud to serve with the other 24 legislators. They work hard to give their best. I'm excited at the same time; people put trust in you."
Whitney: "Rewarding. I'm enjoying it. Everyone's been asking me that same question, 'How's it been going?' I'm telling them, it's been rewarding."
What has been most challenging?
Horrigan: "Probably the most challenging has been trying to tackle some very difficult issues outside of the budget cycle. For example, the County Home is a very difficult and challenging issue that has several different opportunities and several different aspects that require votes outside the budget cycle. Dealing with them outside makes it very challenging because there's no balance to them. So that's the most challenging."
Whitney: "Crossing party lines, because we seem to be very well-divided. We've had a couple of people in committee that would prop their vote."
How do you plan to deal with a possible $13 million deficit next year?
Horrigan: "First and foremost, I think I've been very clear. We need to protect the fund balance. We need to protect every bit of that for what will clearly be an issue next year. I personally will look very carefully where the county is spending. I'm looking very carefully how we can find trade-offs to keep that property tax as low as possible. We can't do everything we want to do."
Whitney: "The deficit, oh boy. I'm hoping we find another $10 million. That would be nice. We have to look at what we're spending and decide what we have to do. It's not going to be easy."
Viewpoints on the $10 million surplus?
Horrigan: "As it came out in (recent) meetings, what has everyone concerned, if we're not careful this (fund balance) will become an open piggy bank for people with genuine needs and issues to be funded. And then to turn to that money and take a little here and a little there. That's the biggest concern we have here."
Whitney: "I would say spend half and save half. I think that would help cut into that $14 million deficit. It was about that much last year, wasn't it? We will always be looking at some sort of deficit and the fund balance may help it now."
What projects are you looking to push within the next few months?
Horrigan: "Probably the No. 1 thing to watch is the progress on Chautauqua Lake management. I don't just mean the Chautauqua Lake Association, but the implementation of the submerged aquatic vegetation management plan. Chautauqua Lake is No. 1. Two is the work on the Ellery Landfill. We've had several meetings to deal with odor, traffic, litter and runofff. I want to make sure the concerns of the public are addressed."
Whitney: "We have to clean that darn lake up. I think casinos and gambling should come to this area within the next 10 years. And people come; they come for a day or two. You lose your first day, you look for something else. You got to have that lake ready. You got to spend money in this area because whether you're for it or against gambling ... I think it's going to happen."
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