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UNITED WAYS Merger would help end divide

We commend the boards of the United Ways of Northern and Southern Chautauqua County as they discuss a merger of the two organizations.

It only makes sense to have one United Way. Merging the organizations reduces overhead, meaning more of the community’s dollars are spent on programs. The organizations were already sharing staff and had shared services agreements, but perhaps the most public of the organizations’ shared services has been the combined Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program. And, many programs funded by the United Way organizations in each end of the county have expanded into countywide organizations — which meant the funders were each hearing the same pitch for money from some human services programs.

As we said, a merger makes sense. It will be up to the remaining board members to make sure needs in both ends of the county are met — and we have no doubt they will.

This process is really just beginning. Later this month, the board of directors of each United Way will review and vote on a merger proposal, as will the membership of UWSCC in July. If the proposal is approved, the two agencies will launch an initial affiliation and begin to work on a joint, countywide fundraising campaign for 2024. Ultimately, a formal merger application would need to be reviewed and approved by the New York State Attorney General’s office, which would likely complete its decision-making in 2025.

There will be some who dislike this proposed merger. Old north county-south county divisions will die hard. While we acknowledge the long-standing, hard-to-understand Route 60 divide, it’s long past the time for Chautauqua County to act as one, not a two-tier region. We are all in this boat together. The issues affecting the north are often the same issues affecting the south county. The issues may affect us differently, but they are often the same nonetheless.

Poverty is the same in the north county as it is in the south county. It may look different, but poverty has the same effect on people in cities as it does in rural areas of the county. The need for educational support for children is the same whether you’re in Jamestown or Dunkirk. Addiction is an issue whether you’re in the north or south county. Food insecurity is the same in the north county and the south county.

The United Way is on the forefront of these issues with its roster of community partners. Bringing the north and south county funding and partners together can only benefit the county as a whole.

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