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County officials look back on 2015 and ahead to this year

January 21, 2016
By Jimmy McCarthy ( , Westfield Republican

For local officials, 2015 undoubtedly brought challenges and successes.

With 2016 underway, uncertainties over the repowering of NRG remain while more work awaits county officials.

Late in 2015, the Chautauqua County Legislature approved the formation of the North County Water District after garnering support from local municipalities. As one of the higher priorities going into the year, County Executive Vince Horrigan said the process required time and education. With the towns of Sheridan, Dunkirk, Portland, Pomfret and village of Brocton joining the water district, Horrigan said local residents will receive water at an affordable price.

"Approving the water district was truly historic," Horrigan said. "This was about working together with municipalities and working together for regional solutions. We are now moving on with this project in the county."

However, questions and doubts looming over NRG will heavily weigh on Horrigan and the County Legislature's minds. Horrigan said he sincerely hopes the project will move forward despite a lawsuit by Entergy Corporation and the WARN notice filed with the New York State Department of Labor. Layoff dates for 64 employees will occur between Feb. 22 and Sept. 26, 2016. On top of the potential layoffs, the city of Dunkirk, the Dunkirk City School District and Chautauqua County would take a financial hit with the loss of PILOT payments. Himelein said the county would lose $1.7 million in PILOT payments.

"It's a big factor going forward that we don't have a whole lot of control over," Himelein said. "We've voiced our support for the repowering of NRG, but until the lawsuit gets settled, we're not able to do a lot."


One of the goals for Kevin Sanvidge, Chautauqua County Industrial Development Agency and the Planning and Economic Development Department is growing the tax base by 1.1 percent every year - bringing in $306 million in new property value. Sanvidge, chief executive officer and administrative director for the IDA, said increasing sales tax revenues by 1.5 percent based off the 2015 budgeted amount is another goal along with decreasing unemployment figures.

In 2014, employment in Chautauqua County stood around 53,800. Preliminary data in 2015 indicates employment loss is slowing with workforce numbers at 53,700 and unemployment at 6.3 percent. Sanvidge said reducing unemployment to 5.5 percent through retaining, growing and attracting businesses is a priority.

"The more jobs we create, the more people will live in this area and the more they will be spending money in this area, building the tax base and giving us the opportunity to lower the tax rate on housing," he said. "My team at the IDA along with the Planning and Economic Development Department is focused on that. We started on these goals in 2015 and are having much success."

Notable accomplishments for the IDA include attracting Empire Cheese to a plant in Blockville. Sanvidge said the company is officially producing ricotta and mozzarella cheeses. Within a year, the company will look to have 100 employees with an eventual goal of reaching 200.

Sanvidge also noted the inaugural Gran Fondo which saw 350 participants this year. The Tour is ready for a return to Peek'n Peak for four years starting July 4.

"The average spent during the 10-day PGA event is $5-$6 million," Sanvidge said. "With the Gran Fondo, we're looking at doubling that next year."


A $4 million grant awarded to the Mental Health Department in August will continue to transform efforts to assist children with serious emotional disorders. Serious emotional disorders in children and adolescents cause disturbances in behavior, thinking and feeling, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Some serious emotional disorders are classified as mental illnesses.

"One of the fascinating things about this grant is that it will further our ability to look at outcomes. Part of the program is training and the other part is intervention that would be done in a school setting," said Patricia Brinkman, mental health director. "It's pretty broad-based."

Moving into 2016, Brinkman said work will continue to tackle the drug epidemic in communities across the county. Brinkman said part of the focus is enhancing the community's awareness of the problem and helping the community understand the disease.

"As people become aware that we all face stress in our lives, one in five will experience mental illness, we'll see more and more people come for treatment," she said. "We need to make sure we have adequate resources available so that when people are having difficulties, there are resources to meet their needs."


On the transportation side, crews worked through a harsh winter early this year and two major storms resulting in damage to the area's infrastructure. George Spanos, public facilities director, said crews were able to patch potholes as temperatures began to rise. The securing of additional funding from the state was instrumental to fixing deteriorated roads and bridges. However, the storm in July caused $450,000 in damage to the north county.

"That was particularly devastating to our infrastructure, and our crews were good at putting the roads and bridges together," Spanos said. "The transportation department has transitioned to winter operations. What Mother Nature will bring is another story."

One of the 2015 highlights for the Public Facilities Department was the completion of the Falconer facility. In 2005, the county purchased 1.8 acres of property on North Work Street for $15,000. Spanos said the project came under the $4 million budget. The facility features 10 bays, a maintenance base for trucks and equipment, a fluid station, a parts room, welding and office space, and a locker room.



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