Wendel Highlights Achievements During Chamber Breakfast

Chautauqua County Executive PJ Wendel, left, speaks during the Chamber of Commerce’s annual County Executive Breakfast Friday at the Chautauqua Harbor Hotel. Also pictured is Chamber President Daniel Heitzenrater. P-J photo by Gregory Bacon

CELORON – If you ask PJ Wendel, one of the most important jobs he has as county executive is to be a cheerleader for the county.

During Friday’s Chautauqua County Chamber of Commerce’s County Executive Breakfast, Wendel highlighted why he’s cheering the county on.

He noted that the last time the county’s property tax rate was this low was in 1982. He credits that to a solid team, cautious spending, as well as the county benefiting from on-line sales tax revenue, which began during COVID.

Wendel noted how the county has won awards from governmental organizations for its fiscal policies.

He also shared how the county was able to invest its American Rescue Plan Act funds to generate money, and they were able to use $800,000 of that money in their annual budget.

When the county did spend its ARPA funds, over half of it was spent on economic development.

That said, Wendel said the county will continue to watch its spending.

“We budget well. We’ve had success. We’re very cautious in budgeting our sales tax revenue,” he said.

Another area Wendel cheered about was the county’s progress in installing sewers around Chautauqua Lake. He noted that they have started the beginning steps for Phase III. That’s the final phase for sewering Chautauqua Lake.

One area of concern he does have is with healthcare and the issues facing Brooks Memorial Hospital.

Wendel said he doesn’t have any new information but will continue to push for the funds for a new hospital in the northern end of the county.

He said he was recently at a state conference and talked to Gov. Kathy Hochul about the millions of dollars that have already been set aside for a new hospital.

“I told her there’s two headlines, Governor. She said ‘I know, you’ve expressed that to me.’ That’s ‘Governor saves healthcare in Northern

Chautauqua County’ or ‘Governor walks away and abandons healthcare in Northern Chautauqua County.’ That’s where we’re at,” he said.

Wendel also expressed concern regarding drug addiction. He noted how of the 62 drug overdoses in Chautauqua County last year, 60 of them were due to fentanyl.

He said in March he visited the Texas-Mexico border and saw firsthand people crossing the border, most of whom were not families, but individuals.

He called his visit “amazing and sad,” noting many people are given ankle bracelets and are left to go wherever they want throughout the country.

“We see the record crime happening, how can we not be concerned about this?” he asked.

Wendel said many of those who cross the border end up in New York state, because they believe if they reach New York they can be sent to other places.

Wendel said he and other county executives are encouraging New York City Mayor Eric Adams to discourage people from coming to the state, saying they don’t need to come to New York before going elsewhere.

After the breakfast, Wendel said he was at the border March 26-28, during his vacation.

There were a number of other topics Wendel addressed as well, including a desire for more mental health services in public schools; his hope that federal funds will be used to dredge Chautauqua Lake; that he believes Chautauqua Lake residents shouldn’t worry about the new wetlands designation (“Chautauqua Lake is a lake, is a lake, is a lake”); his opposition to turbines in Lake Erie; that he would support, but doesn’t expect Amtrak to make a stop in the county (“It’s their decision”); his goal to have broadband available throughout the county in the next few years; and his support for the new Live CHQ and Choose CHQ program, a new marketing campaign designed to address population loss.

For the Live and Choose CHQ programs, Wendel pleaded with the business leaders in the room to embrace the county’s efforts. “It’s like anything else. We are the best ambassadors. Spread the word, get the information out, share with all your friends, get everybody to come back. Tell your story,” he said.


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