‘Want’ culture prevents rightsizing

As community government and school leaders begin to move forward one week after the devastating announcement that ConAgra would be closing its Dunkirk and Fredonia locations, it would behoove them to immediately act as though they are maintaining a non-profit agency.

Most non-profits survive on a shoe-string budget through donations, grants as well as a trend of lesser state and federal funding. In making a budget – or planning ahead – these agencies break it down simply into two categories: wants and needs. Simply put, a need is essential. A want is a desire to possess.

Despite decades of stagnation and decline, Chautauqua County remains a region that continues to operate on want, not need. Here are some specific angles that leaders and residents must consider in changing our downward course.

Water. Major industry, small business and residents need a reliable water system. Dunkirk’s plant is losing money annually. Fredonia’s system, if it isn’t losing cash already, will be within the next two years.

Hav-ing separate village and city water suppliers is a want. It has no current benefit, especially when the major users are leaving and rates keep rising.

Instead, a regional water supplier – which is what major community business partners have requested – is a need that will ultimately lead to better delivery and grant funding for better infrastructure.

Schools. Our children need an education. So well educated are students by the staffs at the 18 county districts that our graduates move on and begin their futures in areas where there is a more vibrant economy.

Unfortunately, however, having each one of those 18 districts is one of the biggest wants that is consistently allowed in our county. Ask the many out-of-town superintendents in your district: why don’t they live where they work?

They don’t have to because they have the leverage. We allow our too many districts to continue their downward spiral, thus the administrator’s current job is only a stepping stone to bigger districts. One former Westfield superintendent had a mailing address in the Finger Lakes despite heading the district for more than a year.

Come on.

So, despite everyone’s great unfounded fears, we need regional education centers – schools that deliver efficiency, better academic programs and more extracurricular activities. That need should be a want. But too many longtime, traditional residents don’t get that or, ironically, are just not smart enough to comprehend it.

Law enforcement. We need community policing. But having five departments covering a Dunkirk and Fredonia population of 25,000 is far too many. That qualifies as a want, meaning the system could be improved. Redefining this protection not only includes the two municipalities, but also the county with the sheriff, the state police and the college, with its university officers.

Elected officials. There are so many elected seats that residents have to be begged to run for office. Take, for instance, last November. Of the 68 seats up for election, 64 were uncontested.

That is definitely not a need. It’s another want to maintain failure.

By the way, many of these part-time elected workers have been making disastrous and reckless decisions for years spending taxpayer dollars. Why would anyone possibly want that?

Public purchases. The town of Sheridan bought the former St. John Bosco hall and is dumping thousands of dollars into it. The town of Dunkirk wants to build a town hall for possibly $1 million.

These are two examples of wants – and have no benefit to any resident who already pays taxes. Officials need to be more cautious in dealing with money pits.

Small fiefdoms. So maybe those village of Forestville, Cassadaga and Brocton residents are happy with wanting to keep their rural nature and high taxes even though it is a misguided want. What they really need to be looking at is welcoming residents and not worrying about their once proud tradition.

No one who moves to Chautauqua County wants to know how old your village is or who served as previous leaders. Those locating here, however, do need to know their neighborhood is safe and when they invest in this region by purchasing a home and property, their investment will grow over the years.

Sadly, too much of our “want” culture has led to a 50-year, steady decline in population and our economy. We desperately “need” to turn that around.

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