Staying The Course A Losing Proposition
Newly appointed Trustee Cathy Cruver was welcomed in Cassadaga right before the beginning of 2023. She was approved by the Village Board to fill the seat that was vacated by Rachyl Krupa, who resigned a month earlier.
To Cruver’s credit, she hit the ground running. After only one month as a representative, she began exploring ways to receive funding for electric vehicle chargers that could be placed within the village.
“You don’t see a ton of it here yet, but if you go into Buffalo, there’s a ton of it,” she said during a January meeting. “It’s coming.”
For a community of less than 700 residents, finding individuals who wish to put forth time and energy in helping Cassadaga grow and possibly thrive is no easy task. In fact, in smaller municipalities, those who end up serving as a government official do so by default. That is because fewer people are stepping up to take the job — meaning most positions are not a competition.
Earlier this month, Westfield held its village elections. All three positions, including the seat of mayor, were unopposed. There’s not a lot of anticipation — or participation by voters — when it comes to the results.
Only three months into her new position, Cruver may no longer be the rookie on the team. Earlier this month, another Cassadaga board member — Mark Wilson — tendered his resignation. It was the second in four months.
There is no question Wilson had other irons in the fire. He runs Wilson Endurance Sports, which has been an important force in making events happen in the quaint village surrounded by a peaceful lake.
Some in Cassadaga thought Wilson’s business created a conflict of interest and a complaint was filed over those potential ethical issues since his company was receiving revenues from a number of those events taking place within the village. It likely led to him walking away.
But he is far from alone.
Many who serve locally do so with plenty of conflicts of interest. We have seen it with the wind and solar projects as those serving in some municipal capacity are receiving payment for land use. Others, especially those on local school boards, have a connection to students, paid staff or are retired teachers. They, in a sense, are more invested in a system when their first responsibility is supposed to be looking out for taxpayers.
It rarely happens that way as elected leaders are most comfortable as big spenders. They avoid tough decisions such as workforce reductions or giving up significant revenue generators while justifying rising expenses to keep money-losing initiatives intact.
Since their actions with big bucks do not impact just their pocketbook — and they usually are dealing with budgets that are seven to eight figures in total value — watching expenses balloon is rarely painful. Besides, if there is a shortfall, the property taxes can be counted on to fill in the gaps.
A current system of 43 separate municipal governments and 18 school districts forces any evolution to happen slowly. Minutia and legalese often hamper efforts to bring any significant solutions or progress through consolidations or sharing services. That frustrates those who worked in the private sector while catering to those who have a history with the painfully plodding in the public sector.
But those who are elected have their defenders as many who live here believe the best form of government is the one with the most local control. That, however, is a fallacy.
Most of the towns and villages are losing people almost as quickly as Chautauqua County. In a recent filing with the state Health Department by The Resource Center, the agency provided documents that included a projection of only 121,000 as total population in 2028. That is not a pretty picture, especially when you consider our current population of 126,000 is about 8,000 less than in 2010.
Albany and Washington, D.C., may be part of the equation for those losses. But if we are so powerless in regard to the workings of the state and federal capital, then why keep allowing the nearly 400 who are elected — some incapable — of making fiscal decisions that continue to shift a heavy tax burden on those who live here?
Population losses impact taxes and workforce numbers. Government and school districts seem to be getting larger by adding employees though the numbers they are serving get smaller.
Nobody elected, however, has demonstrated the courage to fight that battle. Until that happens, why would anything — including the population drain — change?
John D’Agostino is editor of The Post-Journal, OBSERVER and Times Observer in Warren, Pa. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org