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Sweating the small stuff at election time

OBSERVER Photo The 4-H Ag & Expo Center will host early voting beginning on Oct. 26 at the Chautauqua County Fairgrounds.

Early voting in Chautauqua County and the rest of New York state begins in eight days. Judging from the recently held League of Women Voters debates in Dunkirk and Jamestown, many seem ready to make their selection today.

One more gathering, which is hosted by the League’s Chautauqua County chapter, is scheduled for Fredonia on Wednesday. The candidates for village mayor and trustee will be in the spotlight.

How rowdy that event becomes depends on the level of interrogation for the candidates. During the League debate in Dunkirk City Hall on Oct. 8, there was a near-capacity crowd in the council chambers. Queries came from city officials, elected officials as well as concerned residents.

There were questions disallowed for both mayoral candidates that evening. Incumbent Mayor Wilfred Rosas did not have to respond to one inquiry dealing with the supervising of his brother, Hector. Challenger Shaun Heenan did not have to remark about him quitting his council post in 2000.

Though the two can be classified as being too personal, there is a significance to both.

For Rosas, much of the community dissatisfaction does revolve around his brother’s position. From this point of view, Hector Rosas — who sometimes thinks he is bigger than the show — has done a satisfactory job as special events coordinator. However, recent concerns finally voiced by Andrew Woloszyn, outgoing councilman at-large, about missing documentation have raised some eyebrows.

Heenan, also a former county legislator, quit as city councilman at-large with more than a year remaining in his term. It was later filled by Edward “Ned” Devine, current city Democratic chairman.

As is usually the case with local elections, the small stuff takes the spotlight. In recent weeks, there have been calls for more transparency, road repairs, resignations and an end to bickering. Those messages are not just being heard in the city. It is throughout much of northern Chautauqua County.

Personally, I’m tired of hearing about street conditions. We live in the snowbelt. No Western New York community has pristine roads.

But what many residents here long for is a return to the governing of the past. It was a time when we seemed to all believe that local representation was at its best — and those elected were personally working for us.

That is not reality today.

Most in office seem happy to go with the flow, especially those in the Chautauqua Countly Legislature. The less noise made, the better job security — and a salary of nearly $10,000 per year for each one of 19 seats.

For town, city and village offices, there is even less you can do about the major community issues of poor infrastructure and some of the highest taxes in the nation. Funding is tight everywhere as populations continue a downward spiral.

That could change in a decade, but small steps forward in our communities — most of which come in the form of grants from New York state — will take awhile to reverse a longtime trend.

Besides, many local leaders are not looking for solutions to better where we live. They are only looking to maintain what we have.

Consider what is happening now in Dunkirk. Council is beginning its review of the 2020 budget proposal. This city of 12,000 has a budget of $24 million — a cost of about $2,000 per person.

That’s far from efficient, but how do you fix this problem that has been building for decades? Critics of the budget say they can cut a penny here and a dime there. They’re not even going to attempt to touch the big bucks — the salaries and benefits.

Going after those items — or seeking more efficient answers for all our municipal entities — would likely be publicly distressing. No one wants that big responsibility in a part-time job.

So back to the polls we go. Some positions will see new faces. Others will be re-elected.

But the path, for all intents and purposes, remains the same as it was 50 years ago. Our modes for communication, travel and entertainment have all seen improvements and enhancements in our personal lives. But our local governments, founded in the 1800s, keep that same structure while adapting with modern-day conveniences. Other than the town of Portland and village of Brocton, what other municipalities are being aggressive with sharing services and ending duplication?

Our current system, which is comforting and destructive all at the same time, needs a major overhaul.

John D’Agostino is the OBSERVER publisher. Send comments to jdagostino@observertoday.com or call 366-3000, ext. 401.

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