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County Population Estimates Remain Disappointing

Chautauqua County’s population losses continue like a steady drip from a leaky faucet.

The county had 124,891 people in 2023, down from the 125,344 estimated for 2022. The largest municipality, the city of Jamestown, dropped to 27,965 in 2023, from 28,102 the prior year. The next largest, the city of Dunkirk, was at 12,442 people in 2023, as opposed to 12,503 in 2022.

We’ve had a lot of initiatives and programs over the years that attempted to boost the county’s population. It remains to be seen if the county’s latest efforts – Live CHQ and Choose CHQ – will help stem the slow, steady erosion of the county’s population. It will also be interesting to see if some economic development successes – such as the addition of Electrovaya, ImmunityBio’s FDA approval for a drug that will be manufactured in Dunkirk – have any impact on the county’s population.

If they don’t, and decades of history says our population will continue to decline, then we must reinvent the way services are provided. We are starting to see volunteer fire departments merge because they don’t have enough members to staff the equipment they possess. We have seen volunteer fire departments contract with Chautauqua County because they can’t get volunteer EMTs. Those issues are caused, in large part, by our declining county population.

What other services need to be changed as a result of population loss? Schools are the obvious answer. The majority of local tax bills pay school taxes. We spend hundreds of millions of dollars each year – though it’s largely paid with state tax dollars instead of local tax dollars – to educate fewer children each year. Local residents have shown no appetite for school mergers even though they have been shown to save money and can increase the courses a school can offer. Sooner, rather than later, we have to see further school consolidation. It’s time, too, to merge administrative positions to save on overhead.

In our opinion, population loss isn’t going to change anytime soon, and if it does the gains will be miniscule. It’s time to provide services for what we need in the 2020s, not what we were in the 1950s.

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