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Newsmaker of the month: Taxing entities undaunted by stubborn virus

It was a year to forget. Who could have imagined going to the Fredonia Opera House in late January to find out the village won the “Small Business Revolution” to being locked in our homes in March?

That’s what happened, and though life continues to evolve in the clutches of the coronavirus, some things remain quite the same. Government and school spending is not going down while private-sector businesses — especially those non-big box type — have suffered.

Here’s a look back at our newsmakers of the month in a very different year that has a common theme:

¯ JANUARY — Even the wealthiest of districts have a high number of students in need. During this month, Fredonia resident Pravin Patel donated $2,000 for outstanding lunch balances in the Fredonia Central Schools. “If you want a barometer on how wealthy a region is, take a look at its schools,” we note. “The reduced and free-lunch item on the annual report card can be a real eye-opener. One of the poorest districts in our area is Ripley, where 73% of the students qualify for reduced and free lunches. In Fredonia, according to the state Education Department, that percentage is about half at 37%.”

¯ FEBRUARY — With Gov. Andrew Cuomo singing the blues of a potential $6 billion budget, local officials are sounding a warning that more costs will be coming for the already expensive Medicaid program. For the record, this program is not only for the needy but also assists seniors. “Seventy to 80% of that Medicaid goes to pay nursing homes and home health agencies to take care of sick elderly county residents,” wrote Charles Ferraro of Westfield, a former county commissioner of Social Services.

¯ MARCH — We had all heard about the coronavirus in January and February in Asia and Europe. We knew of the lockdowns and major shutdowns. We just never saw it happening to us. Then came March 11. “In a matter of eight hours on that day, state Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the State University of New York system would be shifting to online learning.” we wrote. “A player on the Utah Jazz of the National Basketball Association tested positive leading to the league to suspend the season for the time being. Then, within the next hour, actor Tom Hanks and his wife let the world know they were battling the virus.” COVID-19 had arrived.

¯ APRIL — Temporary shutdowns have the look of being here to stay. At this point of the pandemic, we start realizing this summer will look very different. “Through early (April 23), only 29 positive cases were noted within the county. However, that does not mean there will not be concern from others — once a reopening happens — about venturing out.”

¯ MAY — It was official. Students would not be returning to schools in New York state for the remainder of the year. This decision impacted all grade levels, but especially the class of 2020. “The last three months of the most precious times of someone’s life has been taken away by a virus that has wreaked havoc on every piece of our society and across the globe,” we wrote. “Graduation ceremonies remain up in the air. Some are planning to hold the events at football fields while others have talked about drive-by venues.”

¯ JUNE — Albany takes a lot of heat from local residents for high taxes and out-of-control spending. Those same residents, however, are just like our state capital when it comes to voting on school budgets. All 18 district spending plans passed with very little pushback. “Many residents in Chautauqua County still — to this day — are quick to blame Albany for burdensome mandates and high taxes,” we note. “While there is some truth to that, there is an even greater fact to how we are our own worst enemies.”

¯ JULY — Municipalities through the virus crisis are beginning to see — and comprehend — major revenue losses. Warnings of deficits abound, but plans to reduce are ignored locally. “These public institutions probably do need some sort of bailout,” we say. “But, then again, why reward those who are not trying to rein in spending?”

¯ AUGUST — With state coffers running dry, worries emerge about a new Brooks Hospital in Fredonia that is supposed to be built near the roundabout at the former Cornell Cooperative Extension property. Though state and hospital officials say they’re staying the course with the facility, the delay appears worrisome. “What’s even more maddening about the potential new facility is the state first announced plans for the building in March 2016,” we write. “It is almost a statement to the ineptitude of the hospital’s board and partner, Kaleida Health, in not getting this done.”

¯ SEPTEMBER — A visit by State University of New York Chancellor Jim Malatras signaled trouble at SUNY Fredonia. In just two weeks, a spike in COVID-19 cases put the fall semester in jeopardy. Quick action by new President Stephen Kolison to suspend 13 students, however, sent a strong message. Positive cases stabilized. “What a difference a month makes, which included a visit by SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras on Sept. 6 when the institution had recorded 63 positive cases. Since that major spike that coincided with another one in Dunkirk, the numbers have slowed. As of (Sept. 25), there were 104 cases.”

¯ OCTOBER — Fredonia gets what it deserves: poor drinking water, pictured above. For decades, the village avoided regional discussions and told previous leaders their system was superior to others. “Standing pat, which is what Fredonia traditionally does, is not only destructive — it also puts a dagger in any future development plans while driving away students from a state university because those young adults believe in environmentally friendly solutions. That do not involve plastics for water distribution.”

¯ NOVEMBER — Despite a year like never before, local elected officials have done business as usual. Without remorse, many boards have increased taxes in a year that the economy has suffered. “If elected officials thought this year was challenging, they obviously have not thought about 2021 or 2022. The virus has changed our life. It needs also change the way we run our governments and school districts.”

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