Horrigan Touts Athenex Project, New Contracts Among 2016 Highlights For Chautauqua County
Looking back, County Executive Vince Horrigan says 2016 was an exciting year.
Going forward, Horrigan says one of Chautauqua County’s biggest challenges will be moving qualified people to fill jobs that are on the way.
“I’m very encouraged and pleased with the results that we are achieving,” Horrigan said. “All things are aligning in the right direction and I’m very thankful and proud of the work going on.”
The 2016 year saw activity in all different facets. Earlier in the year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo paid a stop to Dunkirk to announce a massive investment by the state and Athenex, a drug manufacturer, for a state-of-the-art facility to produce cancer drugs. Officials see the project as a game-changer for Chautauqua County as the Athenex facility will look to bring in 900 jobs. With the good news came concerns over the repowering of NRG, which hung in the balance for many months. In November, a lawsuit by Entergy against the project was dropped after the company was sold to Exelon.
“There will be some transition assistance provided, but now we also have optimism that the project will be repowered, so that’s even more good news,” Horrigan said.
A local law to bump the legal tobacco purchase age from 18 to 21 didn’t please those in the tobacco and e-cigarette industry. The law garnered county legislators’ approval as health officials look to protect youth from the harms of addiction. Those in the e-cigarette industry said vaping products should have been taken out since using a vaporizer is different than smoking tobacco.
“To be able to bump the smoking age from 18 to 21 is something that’s starting to take hold in more and more places,” Horrigan said. “We all know the real strain on health, both personal and financial that smoking causes.”
Bonds were approved to move the North Chautauqua County Water District and the Chautauqua County Landfill expansion forward. The landfill expansion saw opposition, however, as the town of Ellery filed a lawsuit against the expansion’s permitting and state environmental quality review findings. The case went to court as the Hon. Frank A. Sedita III ruled in favor of the county’s project.
Horrigan noted $10 million in state funds to the city of Jamestown for downtown revitalization and the return of professional golf in the Web.Com Tour to Peek’n Peak Resort in Clymer as 2016 highlights. The tournament, held in July, recently was awarded Rookie Tournament of the Year.
“To be able to have that back in Chautauqua County, it’s incredible,” Horrigan said. “It’s a big deal and an accomplishment.”
Looking at the financial structure of the county, Horrigan said a stable, five-year financial plan is in place. At the legislative level, the 2017 budget was approved with an increase in the property tax levy and a slight decrease in the property tax rate. Notably, funds were included to purchase in-car cameras for sheriff’s vehicles.
Money was also included to initiate a county fly-car system, which will consist of three emergency vehicles operated by paramedics.
Horrigan said the county is also continuing its support of regional solutions that include shared services and mergers.
“I think people have a lot of faith in the county as we’ve cut taxes for the fourth year in a row,” Horrigan said. “I think people are starting to see that Chautauqua County now is very stable and is in a good position going forward.”
Though they don’t always agree, Horrigan said he’s proud of the legislature’s work in 2016. The legislative year drew to a close as five-year contracts for sheriff’s deputies and lieutenants were approved. The vote wasn’t unanimous, but Horrigan said a solid majority voted in favor, which meant they had faith in the county’s negotiating team.
“Everybody’s working together and moving forward. I’m optimistic that this synergy will enable us to complete sewer projects around Chautauqua Lake,” Horrigan said. “That’s another big initiative and it’s very important we work hard on getting grants and the things we need for that.”
With the arrival of businesses and the expansion of companies come the need for a skilled and trained workforce. For Horrigan, one of the biggest challenges heading into the new year, and into 2018, is ensuring qualified people are ready to take those jobs. At a job summit held this year, Horrigan said he heard many employers say they’re hiring and looking for qualified people to take jobs in manufacturing and in the medical field, among other areas.
“We’re starting to see a tightening labor market. I think there’s good news ahead of us. But we have to focus on job training and job readiness as well,” Horrigan said.
Other notable actions taken by the County Legislature include:
¯ Legislative approval to raise the salaries of the County Executive to $92,500 beginning Jan. 1, 2018; the County Sheriff’s salary to $85,000 effective Jan. 1, 2019; and the County Clerk’s salary to $55,500 on Jan. 1, 2018
¯ Legislative approval to amend County Charter to require a two-thirds vote by the legislature to approve a budget that uses the fund balance and drops it below 5 percent.
¯ Approval of a local law to allow for the use of sparkler devices during the July 4 and New Year’s holidays
¯ Authorization to lease with Southern Airways at Chautauqua County-Jamestown Airport
¯ Establish salaries for paramedic and senior paramedic for the fly-car system.