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We’ll have more power as one, not many

Water is one of the things we depend on. We simply expect it to be there. We rarely think about what it takes to deliver safe and abundant quantities of that precious liquid to our taps, not even when paying our water bill, until it’s not safe to use.

The same is true about other infrastructure we rely on every day, the basic physical and organizational structures every society needs to survive. Imagine what life would be like without the sewer system or power grid, if roads and bridges were never repaired, if there were no police, EMTs or firefighters to race to our aid in emergency situations, if there were no schools to educate our children or hospitals to care for us when we were ill.

Infrastructure comes at a cost. We pay fees for some things. Others are paid for with our taxes. Some rely on grants or gifts, especially to build new, repair, expand or make improvements.

When people and businesses consider moving to a new location, the quality of the area’s infrastructure is critically important to them. Conversely, poor infrastructure can cause the exodus of residents, businesses and jobs. That hurts all of us.

Local, state and federal funds can go only so far. Think for a minute about the loss of tax income the city of Dunkirk faces due to the closing of NRG. Who will cover that loss? Probably taxpayers like you and me.

Dunkirk is far from the only local community facing budget woes. Fallout from the pandemic will make all local communities struggle with difficult financial decisions. Already, there’s been a sharp drop-off in the regular income state relies on, such as sales taxes, fuel taxes and lottery revenue. Deep in debt before COVID-19, the federal government can’t even agree on a stimulus bill.

Consequently, there’s a very good chance spending on infrastructure will soon face deep cuts. Communities have taken state and federal funds for granted in the past, but funds may not be available to support local infrastructure this year, next year or well beyond that.

No one wants to see taxes go up. To avoid that, it’s high time we considered better ways to support our infrastructure. Local communities need to seriously consider consolidation.

That means trusting each other. Fundamentally, that involves sharing services, designing and managing projects together, applying for funds together and working for the greater good. Our water systems, municipal governments, police, fire, courts and school systems would be great places to start.

Look back to 1996 when the Chautauqua and Mayville school systems merged to form Chautauqua Lake Central School District. That merger resulted in a state-of-the-art facility, enhanced educational opportunities for students from those communities and secondary school students from Ripley and a high-quality onsite Child Care Center. Just think of the cost savings in salaries, supplies, building maintenance and administration that came from that merger alone.

We should improve our corner of the world. It’s time communities stopped operating in isolation. Let’s pool our resources and provide better infrastructure for all. It’s the best way, perhaps the only way, to spend less, get more and attract new business and jobs.

Patty Hammond is Economic Development Coordinator at the Northern Chautauqua Community Foundation. The Local Economic Development (LED) Initiative is a standing committee of the Northern Chautauqua Community Foundation (NCCF). Send comments or suggestions to Patty Hammond at phammond@nccfoundation.org

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