Plenty of blame for facility’s closing

You can blame the Lake Erie Regional Health System of New York. You can blame its board of directors or management.

You may even pin blame on the Brooks Memorial Hospital board of directors for attempting in 2008 to work with the Lake Shore Health Care Center and TLC Health Care Network. Brooks agreed to take on the group, which had been bleeding millions in cash annually and was recommended for closure by the Berger Commission in 2006.

Yes, they all had a role in the looming closure of the Irving facility, which will affect 460 jobs. But don’t forget to blame a number of others who also are responsible for the closing of the facility: local leaders, area residents and neighbors – maybe even you – who oppose the regionalization and consolidation of any school districts, municipalities and their services.

We, in Chautauqua County, have the eighth highest tax burden in the nation. Whether we want to believe it or not, this chases and keeps businesses and private investment away from our region. That ultimately leads to constant population declines, which brings increased taxes for those who stay, fewer potential patients for hospitals and customers for our local businesses and merchants.

Our nearly 400 elected leaders – too many for a county of this size – keep stressing that services are the most important piece of keeping this county viable.

Do not believe the hype. We pay a huge price in taxes and fees for services, yet roads are in bad shape, bridges need repair and it takes four months for dead-end streets in some entities to be paved.

Let’s be clear: taxes and a lack of cooperation are killing this county. This year, Hanover has been hit particularly hard.

Can anyone remember a town being the recipient of about 700 jobs being lost over a 12-month period after the closing of Petri’s and a hospital?

Go ahead, blame New York state. Blame a volunteer board of directors for the hospitals. But do not forget to pin blame on your neighbors or yourself.

If you believe our county of 134,000 people is doing just fine losing population while maintaining 62 taxing entities, you are part of the problem. And, you are the reason for so much of this pain.

A number of candidates running for office keep telling us how if they are elected in November, the first thing they will do is spur job creation. That’s a hollow promise.

No jobs are being created when taxes continue to increase – in the county, school districts, cities, towns and villages. These new and current candidates think jobs can be created, but so have the past candidates who have run for election for all boards in the last four decades.

This platform of jobs is no overnight revelation.

When high taxes drive and keep out businesses and jobs, our region suffers. For years we have subsidized competing governments and schools with tax hikes in hopes things would get better.

News flash: It’s not.

The environment has become so bad that institutions that are not taxed such as Lake Shore Health Care Center, which many expected to be here forever, is closing. It’s sad and unfortunate.

But those who oppose mergers and regionalization of governments and schools – most recently those of you in Westfield – contribute to the problem. Sure, the plan to merge the Westfield and Brocton schools was not perfect, but it is better than the option you have now.

Students in these districts can vouch for that. Just wait till they come home bragging about having four study halls because academic programming has been gutted so those opposing mergers on bits and pieces can continue stubborn traditions of supporting under-sized, academically challenged school districts.

If enough people continue to move out of these districts, there is no telling how much longer the downsized hospital in the village of Westfield may be viable.

How about the County Home? It’s on track to lose $3 million this year without additional government funding, but not enough leaders have the courage to make changes or sell the facility. This could be Lake Shore in two years.

So keep believing we need to have a divide between communities like Fredonia and Dunkirk with artificial borders. Keep telling yourself that the $5,500 in property taxes that we pay on our homes valued at $100,000 are not that high while residents in the South and West pay only $900 in taxes for the same valued home to maintain its schools and county governments.

While you’re at it, keep opposing school mergers and government consolidations.

Things are not getting better. And, believe it or not, all these entities we continue to falsely believe in and feed through higher taxes and fees while private businesses leave the area are not part of the solution.

John D’Agostino is the OBSERVER publisher. Send comments to jdagostino@observertoday.com or call 366-3000, ext. 401.