NRG will help keep the lights on

What will you do when the lights go out in the city of Dunkirk? What will you do when the major employers in the area can’t survive because their employees can no longer afford to pay their property taxes, and therefore leave the area?

What will you do when the elected officials announce a reduction in services because the taxpayers can no longer afford to keep the government running? Sounds over the top? Sounds like crying wolf? Sounds like fear mongering? Maybe, but maybe not.

Right now the city of Dunkirk and Chautauqua County taxpayers should be a little concerned that the above just might happen. If NRG leaves Dunkirk we may as well erect a tombstone with R.I.P. engraved on it next to the Dunkirk city limits sign. To support this opinion, I have spoken to more than a few individuals lately, and this is what I have learned.

A prominent physician told me this past week that if NRG goes, he will have to, “give his house away, because there won’t be anyone left who can afford the property and the taxes.”

State Sen, Cathy Young has been working overtime to keep NRG in Dunkirk, but she told me, “It is going to take a massive grass roots effort to convince the PSC to rule in favor of the NRG proposal. That means, writing to the PSC, calling, emailing, signing the available forms, and doing all that we can to show the devastating effect the closing of NRG will have on this community.”

On the business front, we have seen downsizing of some of our major employers in the area, but right now it is a wait-and-see game. Keith Schopp of the Nestle Purina Pet Care Co. told me that they are, “still looking at the research and trying to determine the overall impact that the possible closing of NRG will have on their business.” Purina currently employs approximately 325 in our area. Many of these Purina employees are taxpayers right here in Dunkirk.

Cott Beverages, formerly Cliffstar Industries, has approximately 400 to 500 employees. Cott is a global organization; they have done some restructuring recently but are committed to this area and continuing their reputation of being a good corporate citizen. It stands to reason, however, that should NRG close there will be a ripple effect.

Carriage House has been in the news recently as well. Carriage House has approximately 400 full-time employees locally. Can these employees afford to pay an additional 48 percent city tax, 42 percent school tax as well as a 9 percent county tax? When I contacted Carriage House management, I was told, “this is not about Carriage House, we are a viable employer in the area and have every intent to remain so but the ripple effect is a concern.”

I have been in close contact with the mayor of Dunkirk recently. The mayor’s secretary has distributed forms to various businesses this week for residents in favor of repowering NRG to sign. Keeping NRG in Dunkirk is vital to the stability of the city. Should NRG leave, there would be tax increases for sure, but there would also be decreases in staffing levels and services. Right now the city employs approximately 155 regular full-time employees as well as up to 50 temporary employees.

And what about the Dunkirk School District? I spoke with Superintendent Gary Cerne. Superintendent Cerne told me, “I stay awake at night worrying about this. We are not just talking about teachers if NRG leaves, we are talking about across the board layoffs, changes in programming, larger class sizes, loss of extracurriculars and electives. We will see our dropout rates go up, and a decrease in our overall population. When students lose incentives they lose motivation. I fear there will be an increase in overall attendance problems when we take away some of the fun of learning. There has to be more than math and English; students need sports, the arts, and the electives that help to motivate them.” The Dunkirk School District currently employs over 500 members of our community.

Mr. Cerne said, “If NRG goes it will be devastating.”

I also spoke with Jarrod Johnson, chief operating officer at Brooks Hospital. He had a little different attitude than the others I spoke with. I asked Mr. Johnson what position the hospital had taken on this issue. He said, “We are not advocating for or against NRG. We will wait and see. Of course, the best case scenario for Dunkirk would be if NRG stays, but we are not taking a position one way or the other.”

Given that the combination of employees at Brooks and the facility in Irving is approximately 800 to 900, I was a little taken aback at his comments. So I asked for a more in depth explanation of his position.

Mr. Johnson told me that he is, “following the rationale that if NRG leaves, residents of the area will also leave, therefore there will be less volume for the hospitals, and that would, of course, result in a reduction of services and subsequent staffing in the area.” Hmmmmm..

With the exception of Mr. Johnson, almost everyone else to whom I spoke used the word “devastating” to describe what it will be like without NRG.

It is nearly unconscionable to think of losing NRG and the solid community support its leaders have given to this area over the years. NRG, formerly Niagara Mohawk, has been a symbol of stability to this area for more than 50 years; their smokestacks that are visible along the shoreline of Lake Erie are a sign of home to many of us.

Yes, NRG pays taxes and they support many of our local functions, but the people who work there are our neighbors, our friends and members of our family, and it would be devastating if they leave us.

NRG needs to stay in Dunkirk. Let the PSC know your feelings write, email, call the PSC, complete the forms that the Mayor’s secretary has distributed. It is as easy as flipping a light switch repower NRG Dunkirk’s future is now.

Comments can be made by calling 1-800-336-2120 and referring to case 12-E-0577. The deadline to submit comments is Friday, Aug. 16.

Have a great day.

Vicki Westling is a Dunkirk resident. Send comments to editorial@observertoday.com