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Mayors Critical Of County Regarding Rescue Plan

Dunkirk Mayor Wilfred Rosas and Jamestown Mayor Eddie Sunquist believe Chautauqua County Executive PJ Wendel and the County Legislature should get more feedback from the public before it votes on the plan on how to spend the $24.6 million from the federal government.

A vote on the county’s spending plan is set for Wednesday.

On Tuesday, the two mayors issued a joint statement about how the county plans on using the American Rescue Plan Act funds from the federal government. In it, they note that Jamestown and Dunkirk involved their local community foundations to assist with feedback from the funds they are receiving.

Jamestown is receiving $29.8 million from the American Rescue Plan while Dunkirk is receiving $11.6 million. County officials note both funding levels are significantly higher percentage of their annual budget, compared to Chautauqua County.

The comments of both Rosas and Sunquist, who are Democrats, echo Norman P. Green, who is running on the Democratic line against Wendel, who is a Republican. The County Legislature is also under Republican control.

During legislature hearings last week, Chuck Nazzaro, D-Jamestown and chairman of the Audit and Control Committee, defended the county’s planned use of the funds, saying it was “a very organized process” with both Democrat and Republican legislators providing input, as well as various county department heads.

Wendel said during one of the meetings he offered to work with the cities on broadband spending but “they weren’t interested.”

Chautauqua County officials did not hold any public hearings before announcing their spending plan on Sept. 8. They did take public comments during last week’s legislative committee hearings, which are open to the public. Green was the only member of the public to speak out.

Chautauqua County has proposed 43 different projects with its $24.6 million on public health, infrastructure, economic/workforce development, clean water, public safety, and a couple of other miscellanous projects. To date, the county has received half of the funds and is required to create a spending plan in oder to receive the remaining $12.3 million. The federal government does not permit the money to be used to reduce taxes or pay down existing debt.

The full joint statement by the two mayors is as follows:

“As chief executives of local government offices, we fully understand the challenges that all levels of government have faced over the past year and a half in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. We continue to be proud to work together with County Executive Wendel during this time, demonstrating that all of Chautauqua County can come together for the greater health, well-being, and safety of all our residents. We also recognize the enormous assistance that the ARPA Local Recovery Funds will provide to local governments recovery efforts as well as the opportunity to improve the quality and effectiveness of our municipal services in impactful and sustainable ways.

“When the county executive presented his plan for the use of ARPA funds to the Chautauqua County Legislature last week, we were disappointed to see that no projects in either of the county’s two largest population centers were proposed. While we believed that there were worthy projects where county and city investments could be combined for greater impact, ultimately the county took a different approach. Both Jamestown and Dunkirk were granted funds, to which we are pleased to invest in our communities. However, all municipalities in the county received Local Recovery funds through ARPA. While we participated in multiple meetings with the county to find potential common areas for coordinated investment, and came away from those meetings hopeful, we were not invited to submit a formal proposal to request use of these funds. We can only speculate that other municipalities may have been invited to formally request projects, but neither the City of Jamestown nor the City of Dunkirk was made aware of any such process.

“Most critically, a clear and transparent public outreach plan from the County Executive’s office on the use of ARPA funds as well as a process for feedback from the public, businesses, non-profits, and municipalities has been lacking, and is a dereliction of the duty bestowed upon our elected officials by all those who call Chautauqua County home. We strongly believe that the public should have the opportunity to participate in the planning process regarding the proposed spending and utilization of these unprecedented funds and we have shown our commitment in our own public process. As municipal leaders, we are stewards of our city’s resources, and we have the moral and ethical responsibility to seek and take into consideration the input and feedback of our residents, businesses, non-profits and local stakeholders with regard to how our plans should direct spending allocations to projects and programs that will provide the greatest impact and address the most critical needs of our communities.

“The City of Jamestown launched a public input tour and hosted several business round table discussions over the past 2 months to present the City’s proposed ARPA plan to local residents, non-profits, businesses, and stakeholders. The Chautauqua Region Community Foundation stepped up as an independent organization to assist us with the collection and distillation of feedback received, and will provide Jamestown City Council with a report and recommendations. The City of Dunkirk has partnered with the Northern Chautauqua Community Foundation, has engaged its residents and business owners with a detailed survey to help the City formulate a plan for future investment, as well as holding multiple public meetings to receive feedback. Jamestown and Dunkirk have established a road map for local municipalities to engage with their communities in a positive way, not only presenting the public with our draft plans, but providing them with opportunities to share input to strengthen our plans so they are holistic and benefit everyone in the community.

“We call on the County Executive and the County Legislature to follow our lead and implement a transparent public feedback process for the planned use of ARPA funds, as both Jamestown and Dunkirk have effectively demonstrated. This is a once in a lifetime moment to invest in our communities. For that reason, this is not the time to dodge accountability.”

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