By KATIE ATKINS
OBSERVER Mayville Bureau
When Greg Edwards became county executive in 2006, he never could have predicted what would happen over the course of his two four-year terms.
On a national level, the seven-plus years were full of ups and downs including the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.
Edwards did his best locally after defeating two-term Democrat Mark Thomas in November 2005, making it his goal to lower county taxes.
“I built on the foundation that was here when I arrived,” he said.
A three-step process aided in saving taxpayers money during Edwards’ time in office. He used generating revenue through avenues other than taxes, streamlining operations (reducing the number of county employees by 11 percent), and encouraging the private sector for economic development.
“Major pieces of our operations were merged, eliminating duplication,” Edwards said.
Revenue other than taxes was generated through projects like using methane gas from the landfill to produce and sell electricity, which began in 2009.
Although Edwards said he was proud of these accomplishments, he added that he’s also proud of the county’s ability to respond to natural disasters such as the Silver Creek floods, which also took place in 2009 and left hundreds of homes damaged, some completely lost.
“We lived up to the calling that many of us have in public service, which is to provide aid to those who need it most,” he said.
Edwards encountered many more ups and downs in his second four years after winning a second term with 65 percent of the vote against Democrat Chuck Cornell in 2009.
“I think the biggest issue was the County Home,” Edwards said of his second term as county executive. “The economics are the same as they were two-and-a-half years ago when I determined that the best opportunity was to privatize it, expand services, expand the number of jobs and eliminate it as a burden from the taxpayers.”
A special committee was created in order to analyze the sustainability of the home as Edwards ended his first term, and discovered the skilled nursing facility was losing large amounts of money. Over the next four years, the county legislature went back and forth over whether or not it should be sold to a private owner. Three votes took place in 2013, determining it would remain owned by the county.
The matter affected the 2013 county executive and legislature races significantly.
“The election demonstrated that the vast majority of the people in Chautauqua County want to follow through with the privatization of the County Home,” Edwards said. “I think the new legislature will be able to take that encouragement from the voters and move to complete that initiative.”
In addition to the future of the nursing home being in the hands of the new legislature, other matters are also on the table.
“There are major initiatives cued up for continued support and completion,” Edwards said.
Projects mentioned include the Chautauqua County Land Bank’s $1.5 million grant from the state attorney general’s office and Dunkirk’s $360,000 state grant for further study and engineering for the formation of the proposed north county water district, which could include up to nine municipalities.
Edwards said the project will decrease or maintain current water rates, open up substantial opportunities for growth in the north county’s residential and commercial markets along Routes 5 and 20 where there is a lack of sufficient water, and create jobs at the same time.
As of Monday, Edwards will be the chief executive officer of the Gebbie Foundation and said he’s thrilled to lead the organization.
He’ll remain involved in economic and community development in Jamestown, leading the foundation similarly to his role as county executive.
“The Gebbie Foundation has a long, long history of investment in our region,” he said. “They’ve been the leader in many instances of dramatic change for the better.”
“Greg brings a diverse set of experiences to the Gebbie Foundation,” said Kristy Zabrodski, Gebbie board president. “His knowledge of both the public and private sectors will help us further our strategic focus and will enhance our collaborations with community and regional partners. We are extremely excited to welcome Greg to the foundation team.”
On Thursday, Edwards announced Chautauqua County Attorney Stephen Abdella will serve as acting county executive from Monday through Dec. 31 in addition to his current responsibilities as county attorney.
“As I pursue my new career as executive director of the Gebbie Foundation, I know that I am leaving the people of Chautauqua County in good hands while they await the inauguration of County Executive-elect Vince Horrigan on Jan. 1.”
Horrigan and Edwards stood together at a Republican event in downtown Jamestown on Election Day, watching vote percentages roll in as Horrigan won against Democrat Ron Johnson with 56 percent of the vote.
“We’ve been communicating since he was elected,” Edwards said, and his hopes are high for the new county executive.
In the days leading to the end of the year, Horrigan and his newly appointed transition team plan on interviewing representatives of manufacturing, tourism, agriculture, retail, health care and technology-related businesses in Chautauqua County. In addition, the team will interview representatives of nonprofit foundations, local governments and faith-based groups as deemed necessary.
The transition team will review current plans, budgets and policies and finally provide an assessment of strengths and weaknesses in Chautauqua County, identifying future near-term opportunities for growth.
Recounting his years in office, Edwards said he was most proud of the teamwork and quality of people with whom he worked.
“It sounds cliche, but it’s been a privilege to represent Chautauqua County across the state and help people who call this wonderful place their home.”
As for future county government involvement, Edwards said, “Never say never. I believe now is the time for Vince Horrigan and the leaders in legislature to engage fully. If there is any way I can be of help to anyone in moving the county forward, I’ll be happy to do that.”