MAYVILLE – In his State of the County address to legislators Wednesday n the Gerace Office Building, Chautauqua County Executive Vince Horrigan pointed to positive developments and challenges that remain.
On the plus side, Horrigan pointed to the approval of repowering the NRG energy plant with natural gas as an important achievement in 2014. He said another positive impact was the privatization of the former Chautauqua County Home.
Horrigan also said he wants to increase spending on infrastructure, including roads and bridges. To that end, he said he will propose increasing the sales tax by ½ percent to 8 percent beginning Dec. 1. The request will be presented to the County Legislature in March, he added.
“A half a percent increase in sales tax would produce enough revenue to eliminate the structural deficit for 2016 and eliminate the need to increase property tax,” he said.
The county executive also praised economic development, including efforts of the Industrial Development Agency to purchase the Talcott Street facility formerly owned by ConAgra and operated as Carriage House. When ConAgra announced the closing of its Dunkirk and Fredonia locations, the area saw the potential loss of 525 jobs. The layoffs have been continuing since last year, with less than half of the work force remaining.
“We are now poised in active negotiations to maximize jobs and the use of that facility,” said Horrigan, adding that the IDA closed on the facility recently. “We are hard at work finding new businesses to go in these facilities.”
Environmental issues that he addressed included the dredging of the Barcelona Harbor near Westfield and plans to clear the harbors in Dunkirk and Sunset Bay this year. Also mentioned was the new Watershed Management Alliance for Chautauqua Lake and stream bank improvements on Goose Creek.
He said state funding was received for several major projects, including $1.5 million for the National Comedy Center in Jamestown and $1 million for the water district proposed for the northern area of the county.
“We want to market a play, laugh, learn and stay experience,” he said.
Chautauqua County also received approval to operate a land bank corporation, which in 2014 started a program to demolish dilapidated homes, with plans to remove 40 homes in Jamestown, 20 in Dunkirk and 20 in rural areas.
“We have achieved major success in improving rundown neighborhoods,” he said. The program targets homes that are removed or sold to owners who commit to remodeling them.
On another front, “our Division of Health became one of the first health departments in New York State to run one of the opiate response programs,” he said. The program provides training for law enforcement, health care professionals and community members to use the drug naloxone to help persons who overdose.
“The tentacles of drug addition reach deep into our community,” Horrigan added.
Horrigan also talked about his plan to help the county reduce the deficit and refrain from using county reserves to balance the budget.
“The biggest reality of all is our structural deficit,” he said, adding that 85 cents of each tax dollar pays for mandated costs.
“We must start now to reduce this deficit,” said Horrigan, who pointed to a new commission studying this task.
He said he would also would like to cut costs at the county jail and supports ideas that are alternatives to incarceration.