Strong Chautauqua Lake requires an investment

Before the end of this year, the Chautauqua County Legislature is due to receive a recommendation from its Chautauqua Lake Protection and Rehabilitation Agency. The recommendation will be whether to create a Chautauqua Lake Management District.

If creation of a district is recommended, additional organizational and funding recommendations will also be offered. A lake management district is basically a special tax district so that villages, towns and residents nearest the lake, and those who benefit from it most, pay something to support it good health.

The Chautauqua Lake Association Board of Directors long endorsed the concept of forming a lake district, and reaffirmed that conceptual support this past summer. Recognizing that the agency’s recommendations have yet to unfold, the board reserved comment on the on-going agency work until the recommendations are disclosed and can be fairly evaluated.

During discussion of the topic, the board noted that a successful lake district requires on-going community involvement. Successful lake district boards elsewhere include representatives from political jurisdictions, the scientific community, lake stakeholder organizations and the public, with no single group sector possessing a majority of the board’s membership.

The CLA board also recognized that securing adequate funding for lake and related watershed care will be a key component for meeting the lake’s needs, which are significant, and thus the community should not rely solely upon lake district taxes or fees. The greater community benefits and prospers from Chautauqua Lake and therefore should participate in lake funding.

Although lake-area residents’ and users’ fees can be a component, governments that prosper from the lake should also be required to fund lake work. Those governments include lakeside towns and villages, Chautauqua County, via its general and occupancy tax revenues, and New York state. Additionally, charitable income should be a component of the funding formula.

Recognizing issues that have arisen with the disbursement of occupancy tax funding since its inception, the lake association board also noted that very specific expenditure-use policies will need to be developed for any new district. Funds generated by the district should be sequestered by the county into a very specific lake fund, for specific us in and around the lake. County non-district personnel should not be compensated from the lake fund, nor should the money find its way into the county’s general fund.

The agency’s recommendations should simply be the first step of the lake district discussion. As the agency heard from the representative of Waneta-Lamoka, which straddles the border of Schuyler and Steuben counties, the whole community needs to be involved before and after a district is created.

Public support was vital to that lake’s funding and program. Step Two here will need to be the solicitation of community input regarding the writing of district-creating legislation, followed by public hearings on the proposed legislation. Success starts at the formative stage. Failure happens when community participation is absent.

Paul O. Stage CFP is president of the Chautauqua Lake Association.