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Jobs and the economy remain the issues of overriding concern in Chautauqua County, as they do in much of Western New York. For residents, the choice in this year's race for the county executive post doesn't lie in defining a goal -- it's how the county should get there.

Incumbent County Executive Mark W. Thomas has invested county resources in improving and expanding the county's industrial parks in the hope of luring new businesses and new jobs. Challenger Todd D. Patric thinks that money would be better spent in finding ways to keep existing businesses intact and healthy enough to grow.

There are other policy differences, of course. Patric, a businessman and former Jamestown city councilman running with Republican and Conservative endorsements, criticizes the growth of payroll and spending during Thomas' initial four-year term, and especially during a time of overall job loss in the county. Thomas, a former Democratic Pomfret town supervisor, wants even more county government involvement in programs and revitalization efforts at the neighborhood level, and takes pride in his efforts to consolidate such governmental functions as the 911 emergency dispatch system and bridge replacement and maintenance work.

Thomas has delivered tax cuts, and Patric pledges still deeper ones through cutting "wasteful spending." But it bears noting that much of any county's spending is dictated by state mandates, and in Chautauqua County those state commands control a growing share of the budget -- up significantly even from four years ago, and now about 93 percent of the county's spending plan.

Because of Chautauqua County's employment and economic challenges, development policies should be the deciding factor in this race. Thomas' programs have rightly viewed industrial parks -- both new ones and neglected older ones that need county attention -- as a key investment for the future, and that forward-looking vision is an asset for the county.

Thomas also has increased cooperation between county and town governments, a practical boost for both long-term regionalization and for resource-sharing that could save taxpayers money. Based on both his performance in office to date and his vision for the county's future, The News believes Thomas deserves re-election.