Looking on the bright side

Some things in Chautauqua County are not as dire as one might think. For instance, it looks like we will see improvement of Route 60 connecting the “North” and “South” county. Tourism is flourishing. There are Thursday evening concerts, the upcoming fireworks, Wreck ‘n Roll, and picnics in the parks in Dunkirk. Fredonia has the Opera House, music in the park and a fabulous farmers’ market.

In Jamestown, there is the Lucille Ball theater, the coming Comedy Club, and the Chautauqua Institution in Chautauqua, and Lily Dale is in full swing just to name a few. According to County Executive Vince Horrigan, we are seeing an increase in our bed tax, and our area is a bright star for western New York.

When it comes to improvements, the dredging of the Barcelona Harbor has begun and the Dunkirk harbor is slated to start soon. And the seawall repair is finally moving forward. Our waterfront, and its continued beautification and accessibility, are critical to bringing people and businesses into our area. We can’t afford not to protect what we have and continue looking for ways to enhance this major resource.

Attracting business and industry continues to be a challenge, however. With the closing of the Carriage House, it is going to take a Herculean effort to find a buyer and a way to save those 400-plus jobs. Horrigan told me recently, “My staff and I are working diligently to secure a responsible buyer for the property who can bring a viable industrial concern into this area. Retaining jobs is paramount. This area can’t afford to lose 400-plus jobs. I am actively pursuing companies who are interested in the possibility of continuing a manufacturing concern in the Carriage House facility.”

The property has been listed with a realtor and Horrigan and his staff are working with ConAgra as well as conducting a marketing study through the Empire State Development Agency. Horrigan said, “Along with the Start-Up NY Program, New York state has some good incentives for a company or companies to move into this area. The good news is that the non-compete clause has been removed from the equation, meaning that another food processing concern can come in now.” While the equipment and machinery will most likely be relocated to other ConAgra facilities, the infrastructure will remain intact.

And what about the regional water district? It seems there is finally some positive movement on this front. Both Dunkirk and Fredonia are now on board, and a grant submission is in place. This is just one of the many needed steps toward working together as a county, rather than maintaining independent fiefdoms in which individual turf becomes more important than the success of the majority.

We are not all bright and shiny, though. There seems to be an upsurge in the amount of reported drug trafficking in our area. Drugs are a problem for everyone – not just the abuser or the dealer. Drugs breed poverty and take too many innocent lives. Just this past week, I heard the Dunkirk police chief speak about the unimaginable abuse of drugs in our area. This is not just true for Dunkirk however – it is a countywide and statewide problem.

Horrigan told me that he is very concerned about this epidemic. “Drugs are a problem and a burden on every taxpayer.” It seems that almost daily we see obituaries where young people have died suddenly and unexpectedly, and too many of those are a result of drug overdoses. Horrigan said that the county has a four-point program in place, (1) stricter law enforcement; (2) education; (3) advocacy and (4) publicity.

I’ve told this story before, but I will tell it again. I was in a second-grade classroom when a little boy was having a particularly bad day. Through his tears he said to me, “Mrs. Westling, I’m going to go home and stick a needle in my arm.”

When I asked him why he would do that, he replied, “My mommy’s boyfriend does it and he says it makes him feel good.” This is a true story and it broke my heart. Our children are seeing and living with drug abuse and drug abusers – we owe it to them to do all that we can to stop what our county executive terms an “epidemic”.

The county is working with the municipalities to bring about stricter law enforcement when it comes to drug dealers. I heard city Chief David Ortolano say that his department might arrest someone one day only to have them back out on the streets selling again three days later. This is unacceptable. This will only stop when everyone steps up to the plate and advocates in every way possible against this illegal and life-taking epidemic.

Drug abuse leads to poverty, and poverty costs everyone.

While not everyone who is living in poverty is a drug user or dealer, most are on welfare and that is another crisis in our area. According to Horrigan, he has the welfare budget, and is tightening the qualifying requirements.

“We have a welfare to work program here in this county,” Horrigan said, adding “there are jobs available. Further, we have instituted a pretty extensive investigation process, and we have seen success in getting people who are not entitled to this benefit out of the system.”

Yes, welfare is a public assistance entitlement program. Like it or not, between the federal government and New York state, local agencies have very little flexibility when it comes to the welfare program. This is why workforce development is a priority. Welfare should be a temporary entitlement, not a permanent inheritance passed on from one generation to the next. It is not all gloom and doom. America remains a great country and a free country. My heartfelt thanks go to those who have served, and continue to serve, to keep us free.

Happy Fourth. Be safe and have a great day.

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