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Lawmakers deserve praise, not scorn, for bipartisan work

For the second time in the past month, a commentary has been published in our local paper which takes aim at our county legislators with a venomous tone that mirrors our destructive national discourse (Nov. 20).

Regarding our county legislators, the editor states: “If it were not so anonymous to the public, they would be facing severe criticisms for continuing to promote higher spending and massive tax increases for possibly the poorest county in New York state.” He goes on to attack our lawmakers with the following: “… This legislature one of the most lackluster and reckless local government bodies that make significant annual decisions without even considering the consequences.” Examine the facts, this allegation is a gross exaggeration and greatly miss informs Chautauqua County taxpayers. Let me explain.

In 2015 the sales tax rate was raised from 7.5 to 8% in order to permit a long-term reduction in property taxes for Chautauqua residents. The 8% sales tax rate is in the heart of the average rate across New York state counties and is well below Erie County’s rate of 8.75%. Furthermore, approximately 20% of sales tax is paid by visitors and tourists. In response, the Legislature has been able to cut, I repeat cut, the property tax rate from 9.15 per $1,000 in 2015 to $8.51 in 2021 ($5.5 million savings for taxpayers). COVID-19 required a small increase for 2021 from 2020 which is no surprise to anyone in America. I wonder why the editor forgot to disclose this significant year over year cut in taxes for county businesses and residents.

The editor criticizes the Legislature for pushing back on Albany unfunded mandates. My goodness, 85% of the Chautauqua County tax levy is a function of the Albany mandates that our legislature is forced to accept. I applaud our legislators for pushing back hard on the outrageous spending by Albany. Fifty percent of the Chautauqua County tax levy starts with Medicaid payments.

The editor calls out the continued funding of two airports. Multiple investigations and independent studies have concluded the costs associated with the closure of either airport in the form of FAA grant claw backs are cost prohibited. Then there is the allegation that the County “Fly Car” EMS program is simply a jobs program with added costs. No, this is a lifesaving program put in place because Volunteer Fire Departments no longer have the number of volunteers available to respond to our residents who dial 911 needing emergency care such as stroke, heart attack, severe trauma.

The last section of the latest editor’s attack piece forgets that legislators also serve on monthly committees, budget hearings, and Boards such as Sewer, IDA, Visitor Bureau, attend Town-Village meetings, and so on. Other comments about the Fredonia water crisis, COVID 19, etc., are just plain mean spirited in my opinion.

I know first-hand that Chautauqua County government has a strong record of squeezing unnecessary funding from the budget, while maintaining long term — five-year — fiscal stability by keeping a minimum of 5% in reserves. I suspect the editor is unhappy because public controversy sells newspapers, and our County government knows how to get things done through bipartisan compromise, consensus, and constructive dialog.

Can I get an amen on that?

Vince Horrigan is a former legislator and county executive.

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