There was an older gentleman with whom I worked many years ago who frequently shared his sage advice to anyone who would listen. One day when things were especially slow in City Hall he stopped by my office to impart what he felt were words of wisdom that I needed to be aware of.
Standing in my office doorway with his hands folded across his massive girth, he cleared his throat and simply said, "You know what Vicki, opinions are a lot like belly buttons, everybody has one; don't let those who are irrational and without common sense get to you." He then turned and walked away. I often think of that old gentleman and reflect on what he had to say, especially when I continue to see people posturing for position without regard for long-term consequences.
We have seen a great deal of political selfishness lately and have been the victim of what can happen when irrationality takes over. We have seen what happens when an individual is so determined to get their agenda passed that they take down an entire party with them. We have seen what fighting for "turf" can do in Washington, but isn't the same thing happening right here in Chautauqua County?
We have an election coming up, we need to think long and hard about the issues that are facing us today and which of the candidates can best put a plan in place that will help to alleviate some of our tax burdens and help our county to prosper. Today, in Chautauqua County, we have just over 134,000 citizens; we have two cities, 27 towns, 15 villages, 10 hamlets and 18 school districts; do we really need all of these for a county of our size? Is it any wonder that we have the 8th highest tax burden in the nation?
Is it any wonder that we are losing businesses and jobs at an amazing rate of speed? Is it any wonder that our various governments cannot accurately "guesstimate" their revenue so they can effectively manage the needs of their respective entities?
Our population in the county is not growing - it is going down. New businesses aren't eager to come into our area with the uncertainty of the economic climate. And those that remain have to look very closely at why they should. Property taxes, school taxes and business taxes are just too high.
We continue to see businesses downsize or leave the area entirely. Carriage House is in the process of closing one of its warehousing facilities in Dunkirk, Lake Shore hospital has announced it is closing in January, Brooks Hospital has seen lay-offs and has announced they will lose money this year, Cott Industries has reduced its staffing, and whether or not there will be a repowering of NRG is still unknown. We have learned that a recent audit of the town of Chautauqua has shown "unrealistic budgeting" on the part of the town's staff; what do you want to bet they aren't the only ones?
Our cities, towns and villages are struggling to do more with less. Our roads, bridges, seawalls, and water systems are in need of repair and maintenance that we just simply cannot afford to have done. Our schools are stretched to the limit and needed programs and advanced curriculums are being cut or not even considered.
Just look at what happened with Westfield and Brocton! What a one-sided and selfish showing on the part of the voters in Westfield. And Brocton is not without blame here. Brocton had an opportunity to merge with Fredonia, and they turned it down. The old adage of "what goes around comes around" certainly proved true in this case.
But it isn't just Brocton and Westfield, it is the mindset of the residents of this county - we each want to protect our own little turf, maintain our special identities, regardless of the costs to our children. We have to look at the broader picture if we are to survive and become a vibrant and prosperous county. We need to look at mergers of not just schools, but cities, towns, villages and hamlets. We must move beyond our comfort zones and erase the lines that divide us.
Our welfare to work program isn't working! Our tax burden is almost overwhelming, and the economic advantage just doesn't exist. If we want to solve our problems in Chautauqua County we must work together to consolidate school districts as well as dissolving and/or merging the smaller villages and towns. We need to get out of the business of operating an airport and a skilled nursing facility. It won't be easy, but if the taxpayers truly care about making our county all that it can be it will require each of us to look beyond our navels, take a deep breath and a step forward. Yep, even I have a belly button.
Have a great day.
Vicki Westling is a Dunkirk resident. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org