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May 17, 2009 - Ray Hall (Archive)
And vice-versa. Pull off your coat and throw it in the corner. We’re going to have front row seats to a “redneck family fight”--a family feud New York style--right here in Chautauqua County.

Rural—city quarrels in Chautauqua County have been legendary.

Ever since former Jamestown Mayor Frederick Dunn took a leisurely Sunday drive through the Town of Poland and bought enough land to own one of the largest fresh water aquifers in the world plain country folk have been a little suspicious of our city’s Ambassadors.

Another source of friction was when the Supreme Court sided with city slickers and ruled elected representatives ought to represent people instead of fence posts. It took awhile to sink in but someone in Chautauqua County figured out that “one man—one vote” meant that something was amiss when each of 27 Towns, regardless of population, had one Supervisor while the City of Dunkirk with 20,000 people had only two representatives. The result was a 25-member legislature with 6 representatives from Jamestown and 3 from Dunkirk.

There have been rural-city dust ups over any number of issues; Jamestown gave its welfare rolls and airport to the County and argued that Clymer got better treatment on its county roads while city streets suffered. Country folk suspect the obvious; whatever Jamestown gets, Dunkirk gets and vice-versa. Regardless, Jamestown was miffed when the General Hospital bit the dust and city tax payers paid off the debt despite the fact that more than 80% of the patient load came from surrounding Towns. Lakewood was the only community that contributed financially for the hospital’s funeral.

This time the spilled beer on the trailer house floor is over the county reimbursing the two cities—Jamestown and Dunkirk—for uncollected taxes. Here’s how that works: When a house, a property, reverts to either city for uncollected taxes, Chautauqua County—some will say in an act of unparalleled generosity—pays each city an amount equivalent to the unpaid taxes.

Sounds okay. The city has its taxes and the County agrees to either collect the back taxes or sell the property three years later in an effort to recover the money. If the property sells for less than the tax owed, the city is supposed to pay the county the difference, but therein lies the rub. Jamestown and Dunkirk have too many abandoned houses and county auctions take too long and simply aren’t bringing in enough money. The cities owe the county money they can’t or don’t want to pay right away and the County is short on cash.

Writing in the May 16, 2009 edition, the Post Journal’s Patrick Fanelli reports that Jamestown owes the County $572,976 and Dunkirk owes $351,778. All this city debt has Legislator James Caflisch (R-French Creek) unnerved to the point where he has vowed court action unless his colleagues vote to end this agreement or unless the cities pay what they owe. But what cut to the quick was Caflisch’s reminder that 90 to 95% of the county jail population comes from the cities. He suggests it is unfair for rural folks to pay for the cities’ criminal element. I suppose a natural remedy would be to encourage our criminal element to take up residency in Clymer, but I don’t think that is what he meant.

Rural dweller Caflisch riled city dweller and Chairman of the Legislature Keith Ahlstrom (D-Dunkirk) enough that Ahlstrom says he will introduce legislation that would require county residents pay for county services they receive; things like Sheriff patrols, county roads and bridges (Dunkirk doesn’t have a county bridge) so that urban dwellers no longer subsidize towns.

This would all be funny except that all of Chautauqua County is so poor that we can’t even support our own schools. Nearly $200 million, perhaps more, rolls into Chautauqua County on the backs of our school children and a majority of that cash is spent right back into every Village, City and Town. You can bet that $200 million did not come from our neighboring counties. Most of it came from New York City. If you don’t believe it, ask Mayor Bloomburg.

In that same Post Journal article Patrick Fanelli writes that Mayor Bloomburg testified last year in Albany that New York City residents pays about $11 billion more in taxes than they get back, and that most of that goes to subsidize Upstate New York. That has encouraged New York City Councilman Peter Valone (D-Queens) to push a bill that would make New City the 51st State.

You see, everything is relative: Folks from Albany and east looks at all of Upstate, Chautauqua County in particular, as rural—county bumpkins just off a turnip truck. It is hard for some downstaters to believe we have lost our sagittal crest and eat with forks.


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