There Needs To Be A Common Sense Approach

I have a vision for the future of Chautauqua County that emphasises common sense as we take aggressive and proactive steps to shape the future of our county.

A large part of my vision is based on the reality that in 50 years there will not be 40 different municipal entities and school districts to serve a county of 130,000 people. The vision removes the importance of having political parties control the election of citizens interested in serving their communities. The vision makes our county a working county where those who are able to work contribute in some way towards society and, ultimately, towards their self esteem and improvement. The vision unites the north and the south county, the liberal and conservative, the farmer and the factory worker as it pertains to our home, Chautauqua County, NY.

First, we need to take bold steps to merge, consolidate, dissolve and share services among the many governing entities within the county. The structure of these entities dates back to the horse and buggy days when people could not attend schools or attend to their business without the taxing entities that existed in their given community. Admittedly, there has been some progress or at least admission of this outdated structure. The problem is these are baby steps that will take decades to change because any change is often being channeled through the entities themselves.

I read a report commissioned by the county in the 1970’s to look at shared services within the town highway departments. The company doing the study could not get any of the town highway superintendents to attend a single meeting, much less discuss ways to improve services and save money. The report concluded that you can not ask the people who run these entities to be involved in the vetting process of changing them for the improvement of the county. This is not to fault those who are part of these districts and communities. Many are invaluable in many ways. We just can’t ignore the obvious anymore and I think Chautauqua County could and should be a model for aggressive and fast-paced change for the future.

I’m somewhat of a local history buff and at different times in our history political parties were not part of local elections. I think we would be better served by phasing out the importance of party affiliation as it pertains to local elections. I am politically independent and have been for years. I respect the party system when it comes to national politics where issues such as abortion, gun control and immigration are initiated and carried through by the political process of the two-party system. In local politics, however, I see no value to the two-party system other than the favoritism and paybacks associated with what amounts to an antiquated croney system. Shouldn’t we all be working towards a safe and vibrant community as our goal?

Imagine if we took the resources expended within our county with the ever prevalent “us against them” that exists between the parties in our county government and used those resources, that energy and that passion to compete globally? Take away the political appointments in patronage jobs and get the best person to do the job, regardless of their political affiliation.

Speaking of workforce, we need a larger one and there are exciting projects in both the north and south ends of the county. I believe our local development suffers because companies look at us as old and antiquated. Am I going to locate my factory in Chautauqua County with 40 different government entities or relocate down south where there will be one school system, one police and highway department, etc. etc.? I believe we often don’t make it past the first stage of developer inquiries because of that. Let’s show these folks that our structure is old but we are actively looking to change that — not in 15-20 years but expedite the process and act NOW.

Chautauqua County has many unemployed workers who are able to work and contribute. The Welfare to Work program is seemingly designed to help the community and the individual by creating some type of job service for those on public assistance. I believe what happens is the agencies that are eligible to utilize these workers feel that the time and effort to implement these programs is too costly. Perhaps we should approach the foundations or look for other funding to create a vehicle to make it easier for these potential workers to contribute? If we hold people accountable and make them show up and contribute, in any small way, it can be a win-win proposition. The community could gain by utilizing the workforce to help maintain public spaces and the workers would have a cause to get out of the house, show up at the site and contribute in some fashion towards society.

The drug epidemic is a tough situation. I have no answers other than to say if we can get some of the unemployed people back contributing towards society maybe, just maybe, we can break this cycle of substance abuse. I don’t pretend to have answers for this but we have a great grassroots group of concerned citizens that are taking action steps and the county needs to be supportive in a united fashion.

Yes, we need to unite. No more north vs south, democrat vs. republican, rural vs urban; we live in the same county, people. How many people in the north county have never been to the Reg Lenna and how many south county folks have never been to the 1891 Fredonia Opera House? Let’s put our focus together and support one another in this global economy.

In closing, the way I see it we allow a small group or people who are protecting their interests and their antiquated structures to shape our future. It’s time for the majority of us that get no gain from the status quo to take our county back from these special interests, get involved, get out and vote when the mergers come to ballot and try and force the change that needs to happen – (much) sooner than later. If we want our children and grandchildren to have the same chance we may have had, we cannot let our outdated ways control our destiny.

If we don’t use common sense and remain reactive, these changes will eventually come about due to very dire circumstances. Instead, we must take action, now, to ensure a vibrant future for Chautauqua County.

Mark Olson is a Jamestown resident.