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State Should Not Penalize County For Refusing To Waste Money

One reason given to spend more than a million dollars on a hangar at the Chautauqua County Airport in Jamestown is, basically, if you don’t take the state’s money, you won’t get the state’s money in the future.

We have no reason to doubt the county official who said it because similar statements have been made in city and county meetings over the years. When you think about it, the statement really is a scathing indictment of the way state officials think about spending your money.

At issue is a roughly $1.07 million rehabilitation of a dilapidated hangar at the Chautauqua County Airport in Jamestown. The state would pay roughly $902,000 while the county pays $171,960. Legislator Charles Nazzaro, D-Jamestown, raised logical questions during the legislature’s Public Facilities Committee meeting in July about the need to spend the million dollars and whether the county should spend the $171,960 at a time when its capital reserve fund is half what it was at the end of 2016. Nazzaro also questioned the lack of a business plan for the airport to ensure that the million dollars in local and state funding isn’t wasted on a gleaming hangar that no one uses.

All of Nazzaro’s questions are good, and taxpayers deserve answers to those questions before a single solitary penny is spent.

One argument given by Brad Bentley, county public facilities director, to accept the grant funding despite Nazzaro’s questions was that the county might not get future state money if it turns the hangar project down.

“Let me just put this in perspective,” Bentley said. “If we turn this down, the next time we apply, we probably will not get it. You are thumbing your nose at the New York state DOT on this one if you say no. So the next time that we want something that makes business sense for us, then we’re probably going to be SOL. I hate to see us shoot ourselves in the foot through this.”

We don’t, by the way, fault Bentley for advocating for the project under those circumstances. For the record, during a committee meeting later that week, Bentley limited his reasoning to resubmittal of the hangar project, saying the state would likely turn it down if the county declined the project now and asked to proceed later. Either way, it’s a lousy way for the state to conduct business.

It is no secret the Chautauqua County Airport is struggling. It’s been nearly two years since commercial air service ended, and the county has been notified that its fixed base operator is leaving. County officials need to decide, once and for all, whether the county should be in the airport business at all before accepting grant money for anything other than basic safety programs. The problem is that repayment stipulations in federal and state grants prolong the date at which the county could think about potentially getting out of the airport business. It’s one reason to think twice about accepting the “free” money from the federal and state governments.

More importantly, shouldn’t the state reward municipalities that take a hard look at a project that may or not really be needed? Isn’t the county, in particular Mr. Nazzaro, doing what taxpayers should expect a legislator at any level of government to do? Why should the county be penalized for deciding that a hangar at a struggling airport may not be the best use of county or state money? Lastly, why should the county be penalized for being a good steward of taxpayer money?

It is ridiculous that state officials would be upset that a county walked away from a bad project and then have the nerve to penalize a good project in the future.

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