To everything there is a season, and dare I say a reason. We can't always know which is the right story, but we do know that living in an area where consolidation and sharing are dirty words means eventual demise of a community. Such seems to be the case in Chautauqua County. Now before you tell me to "just move if I don't like it" stop and try to think about what is going on in "our" back yard.
We are losing another major employer. There are soon to be some 400-plus citizens in our area out of work; and there are very few jobs for which they can transition. Many of those individuals are taxpayers, what will happen to them? Some of these people have worked at the Carriage House facility for more than 20 years, and it is all they know. There are not many companies in this area who are in a position to hire these hard-working people. Will welfare be the answer? Will there be home foreclosures? Will houses just be boarded up and abandoned? What happens to the budgets of the villages, towns and cities?
In addition to finding ways to bring industry and business into the area, whether with the governor's "Start Up New York" incentive, or through the efforts of County Executive Horrigan, Assemblyman Andy Goodell, State Sen. Cathy Young, or Congressman Tom Reed, we must find a way to stop the bleeding of the current taxpayers. Stopping the bleeding might just mean that change is necessary.
What will it take before our locally elected officials realize that holding on to the old ways of doing things is not always the right thing to do? Just look at the nearly three-year battle to sell the Chautauqua County Home.
We now have a private owner who is planning to add to the available services, increase the staff and provide the same or higher level of care for our residents. We have NRG making the necessary conversions from coal to gas furnaces due to private money being invested, and yet there are those who continue to cry foul. We have a hospital that is on the brink of foreclosure and a potential buyer, but no decision.
Our school districts are too many and yet we continue to protect the "turf" of neighborhood schools at the expense of the students and the taxpayers. Our villages and towns are all suffering from cost overload, and yet we stand with feet firmly planted and fists raised against any idea of consolidation or mergers. Just look at what happened last year in Brocton and Westfield.
The governor has said there will be penalties if municipalities continue to refuse consolidation of services, and yet the village of Fredonia Trustees approved a resolution allowing them to go over the tax cap regardless of the potential loss of funds from the state. And when it comes to joining the efforts of the neighboring communities in an effort to share water resources, Fredonia has said no. I wonder how they feel now that the Carriage House is leaving their area.
It is not my intent to put down any one village, town or city, but this area has been dealt another wake-up call and we can't afford to just pooh-pooh it. The governor has announced his plan. He has stated several times in the past months that communities must look for ways to share their services. The governor's message was discussed at a recent meeting in Albany at which both the mayors of Fredonia and Dunkirk attended (on taxpayer dollars). According to reports in the OBSERVER as well as personal conversations, both mayors came away less than optimistic about the realities of any consolidation of services, especially when it comes to the water district. This is a mystery to me.
The Forestville residents are looking at a potential increase in their school taxes, all the while the enrollment is continuing to decline. Silver Creek schools are not doing any better. Then we have to look again at Brocton and Westfield; will they merge or won't they? Will the pride of individual mascots and turf trump the need for a well-rounded education system for the students?
And let's not forget about Dunkirk - we continue to bus students to neighborhood schools. With the closure of the Carriage House, will Fredonia Central Schools face an even bigger challenge?
When we first heard of the closing of Carriage House, my husband Richard said, "Well, maybe we should sell our house while there are still people available to buy it." I think that is the sentiment of many taxpayers in Chautauqua County, and I think that's very sad. And, no, we aren't selling our house - not yet anyway.
Leaving the area is not the answer. Now is the time to ask what needs to be done and to do it. That might mean electing leaders who aren't afraid to make tough decisions. That might mean electing leaders who are more concerned with bringing jobs to the area than defending Obamacare; leaders like Tom Reed. It is time for pragmatic thinking and doing what is right for the community. Doing what is right means consolidation, lowering taxes, and reducing regulations and fees for employers.
Employers like Carriage House do more than pay wages. They pay taxes and fees for services, and the employees pay taxes and buy things from our local merchants.
We need to think about consolidation and sharing services across village, town and city lines. We need to find a way to attract businesses and industry to our area. And we need to elect officials who understand that this area is on its last leg, and while difficult decisions aren't popular, when it comes to consolidation they need to just DO IT!
Have a great day.
Vicki Westling is a Dunkirk resident. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org