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Population Loss, Poverty Debated By Executive Candidates

Stemming The Tide

County Executive PJ Wendel (Left) and Norm Green (Right) are pictured during a recent debate. Both are running for Chautauqua County executive and disccused the county’s population loss and poverty concerns. P-J photo by Eric Tichy

Editor’s note: This is the second in a four-part series of the candidates running for Chautauqua County executive.

In 2010, Chautauqua County reported it had 134,725 residents. Ten years later the county has 127,657.

The loss of more than 7,000 people is a trend that has continued to haunt the county for decades. Since 1970’s population of 145,377, Chautauqua County’s population has decreased every census.

During a private debate with the OBSERVER and Post-Journal, County Executive PJ Wendel and challenger Norm Green were asked, “Our county is losing population and poverty is increasing. What will you do to reverse this trend?”

Green, who is the endorsed Democrat, believes what is being done is not working to stop population loss or to decrease poverty. “The county executive really isn’t focusing on poverty in our county and is pretty much ignoring the metropolitan areas of Dunkirk, Fredonia and Jamestown,” he said.

Green says he will do more in economic development in the county’s small villages. “You go into Sherman and they’re trying really hard, but we need to bring in Industrial Development Agency assistance,” he said.

Green believes too many small communities are not vibrant, which is causing a decline. “We are not going to have people staying in Chautauqua County. We’re not going to be attractive to people outside of Chautauqua County,” he said.

Green would like to see brochures and packages put together to promote Dunkirk and Fredonia, since the northern end of the county has a number of job opportunities. “Low-priced housing is available in Dunkirk. People can come down here and live more cheaply than they can live elsewhere, and there are family-sustaining jobs there,” he said.

Wendel, a Republican, said he’s working hard at helping develop businesses and promoting the county. He noted that the new sewer line that is being installed on Chautauqua Lake will not only improve the health of the lake, but also allow for future development. Had that line already been in place, he believes more development would be here today.

Wendel shared the story about a developer that wanted to put a hotel in Stow. Conceptual drawings were submitted but the plan was scrapped because water and sewer wasn’t available. “By increasing the water and sewer to come out to Stow, it creates the infrastructure where people come in and they develop. You develop, you create jobs. You create jobs you create tourism. You put people there working,” he said.

Regarding Green’s comments that the county should be putting together brochures, Wendel said it’s already happening. “We have a booklet. We produced it. We give it to our developers. We give it to businesses,” Wendel said.

Another topic Wendel said he’s focused on is increasing broadband for all county residents. He believes that if broadband is available, people from urban areas will come here. “That boom has started. You talk to realtors. People are moving out of the cities,” he said.

Wendel talked to an individual who works for Amazon but now lives in Frewsburg because he can do his work remotely. “You expand that broadband, countless people will love to live here and work in facilities all over the country,” he said.

Green continued to criticize Wendel for the expansion of the Chautauqua Lake sewer project, not because of the need, but because it’s being paid through the American Rescue Plan Acts. “The money is available for the sewage system,” he said. “It will take time. He wants to take this money that is more free to be used in many different ways and he wants to put it in his sewage system, with what I call his ‘Field of Dreams.’ We’ve all seen the movie and that’s what he said: ‘Oh I built it, and they will come.'”

Green would rather see the ARPA money used to help Fredonia’s water and dam. “Instead of spending money on thousands of people, the county executive went to a sewage line on the western side of Chautauqua Lake. It just doesn’t make sense,” he said.

Wendel defends how the $26.4 million ARPA money is being spent. “We’re not focused on any one town or village. We’re focused on do we spread this money across the county,” he said.

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