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County adds to stimulus projects

The Chautauqua County Legislature has added two new projects to its spending plan of $24.6 million from the federal government’s American Rescue Plan Act — one to repair a water storage tank in the north county and one to fix dam valves near Cherry Creek.

During various legislative committee meetings this past week, lawmakers heard again about the 41 projects proposed. Last week, the legislature’s Audit and Control Committee finalized the plan, which is scheduled to be voted on Wednesday. That day legislators can adopt the modified plan, make further changes or reject it and start all over.

During multiple committee meetings, Norman P. Green of Dewittville, who is running for county executive on the Democratic ticket, urged county lawmakers to start the process over.

“There were no public hearings on the Rescue Act spending. A small select group of county only people assembled by the county executive met and heard only from county department heads. This money is being awarded to the county as a whole and the metropolitan areas of Dunkirk-Fredonia, Jamestown, Westfield and Silver Creek and the suburbs of Jamestown have been ignored,” he said.

Fellow Democrat Chuck Nazzaro, who chairs the Audit and Control Committee, defended the selection of the projects. “There was a very organized process to this. Our county executive appointed a committee. Besides department managers, there were four legislators on it,” he said. “We had a process. We met every two weeks. Mark Geise (CEO of the county Industrial Development Agency and deputy county executive for economic development) headed up the process. We had volumes of projects come in. It was very long task. This is now coming to the legislative body to review the projects.”

NEW PROJECTS

The Audit and Control Committee adopted two new projects in its final resolution.

The first one was for the repair and rehabilitation of the North County Industrial Water District Storage tank. The cost is $863,000.

The change first came from the legislature’s Public Facilities Committee, which is chaired by Legislator Terry Niebel, R-Sheridan.

“This water tank services the North County Industrial Water District, which really is 13 customers, one of which is Ralston Purina (former name, now called Nestlé Purina PetCare) one of the largest employers in the northern part of the county,” he said.

According to Niebel, the tank is 45 years old and is in serious need of repairs. He recommended the money come from the $8.4 million designated for the Phase II sewer extension for West Side of Chautauqua Lake.

The project was meant to be considered for funding from the American Rescue Plan Act but the paperwork was turned in too late.

The second change was $500,000 to repair valves in two of the four dams in the Conewango Watershed near Cherry Creek. According to Legislator Jay Gould, R-Ashville, if the valves are repaired, dredging will need to be done as well, which is why each repair is expected to cost $250,000.

He said the valves haven’t worked in a number of years and if there’s a flood, they won’t be able to open to protect Cherry Creek from flooding.

Apparently county officials were aware of the need for the replacement of the north county water storage tank, but not the valves for the Conewango Watershed dams.

“This is the first time I’ve heard of this. I see the value of this without a doubt. I’m just concerned that it never made any capital projects (lists) or anything prior to this, knowing these values haven’t worked for so many years,” said County Executive PJ Wendel.

Like the funding for the storage tank, to cover the cost the committee recommended reducing the funds for the Phase II sewer extension. County officials said they’re hopeful that they can get funding for the sewer extension through the possible federal infrastructure funding bill that is currently being debated in Washington.

REJECTED CHANGES

There were two projects that Nazzaro originally wanted removed, but in the end they remained.

The first project was $810,000 for a new snowblower. During the Administrative Services Committee meeting, Public Facilities Director Brad Bentley said the county has three snowblowers that are primarily used when trucks are unable to push snow. One of the snowblowers is from the 1960s, a second one is from the 1980s and the newest one is from 2002. He wasn’t sure how often it is used.

Nazzaro felt that since the snowblower is used primarily in emergency situations, he wanted to redirect that funding to go elsewhere. The federal government does not permit the money to be used to reduce taxes, so Nazzaro proposed the money be spent to further economic development.

On Thursday, Bentley returned before the Audit and Control Committee and said that after talking to his staff, he said the 2002 snowblower was used eight times last winter and would have been used more if it didn’t keep breaking down.

Bentley said his Sherman staff use it to cut back snowbanks. If they didn’t use it, the snow would drift back in the roads more quickly. He said a new snowblower would be valuable, not just for emergency purposes but also for regular use throughout the winter. Because of this new information, Nazzaro agreed with with purchase.

The second item Nazzaro wanted removed was the $72,000 to fund a study on Essential Air Service at the Jamestown airport. “I’m supportive of the airports for private, for industrial, (and) for charter (use). I just think we have to recognize that the days of commercial airport out of Jamestown is in the past. We were averaging six passengers a day. This is just another study,” he said.

Legislator Gould agreed with him. “I’m a firm believer that we’ve had too many studies and not enough action,” he said.

Bentley defended the funding for the study. “This is for essential air service only. … You need this study to apply for it. You can’t apply without it,” he said.

Geise also wanted to see the study done. “If it comes back and we find there’s not a market, we put it to rest and we don’t go in this direction anymore. I think it is important personally,” he said.

Geise believes the last time Jamestown had commercial air service, it failed due to the carrier. “They canceled flights and they didn’t provide a good product,” he said.

Wendel voiced his support for the study. “We’ve done studies, but this is a specialized group that understands what we’re looking for. … Let’s have a final answer once for all,” he said.

Legislator Niebel agreed with Wendel. “I’m willing to give them one more shot, but this is it. … This is probably our last shot at commercial flights,” he said.

The funding for essential air service study stayed in the spending plan. The revised plan now has 43 projects, covering public health, infrastructure, economic/workforce development, clean water, public safety and miscellaneous. So far the county has received half of the funding and is required to have a plan in place in order to receive the remaining $12.3 million.

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