It was a who's who of local government Tuesday at Jamestown Community College.
Local elected officials from across Chautauqua County gathered at the college's Carnahan Theater to take part in a municipal consolidation forum, organized by County Executive Greg Edwards and at the behest of Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
The two-hour question and answer session included mayors, village and township supervisors and a few county legislators.
State officials speak to county leaders
The discussions were led by Dede Scozzafava, deputy secretary of state for Local Government, and Kyle Wilber from the Department of State.
"I'm glad the county executive invited us to be here," Wilber said, "because these are where the discussions need to happen."
"I'm excited to be here tonight to have these discussions," Edwards replied.
The county executive said he organized the forum at the urging of Cuomo, who is calling on county executives across the state to spearhead discussions into consolidating municipal services.
Edwards noted a recent trip to Albany where the governor discussed his streamlining hopes.
Several local officials discussed merging their respective towns and villages, however, many said state officials were hard to get a hold of and had limited answers.
Scozzafava and Wilber said they take all concerns and recommendations from local municipal leaders back to Albany for evaluation. Both agreed a better line of communication between local and state governments was necessary.
When asked what was the biggest concern in the village of Westfield, Mayor David Carr said, "Getting new business, same as every other village. We're too close to Pennsylvania. They're business-friendly, and we're not."
Other leaders stressed Medicaid payments were crippling their budgets, a notion Edwards vocally agreed upon.
Legislature Minority Leader Lori Cornell, D-Jamestown, asked what recommendations state officials had for local leaders. She said having everyone under one roof what the ideal setting for such talks.
"We have all the players right here," Cornell said. "What would you recommend we do from here? How can we in the county government better support local government?"
Wilber said looking at the infrastructure within the county compared to its local counterparts is a good start. He also alluded to state grants that help municipalities consolidate, including fire, highway and water districts.
"There's a lot the state can do to help, but like we've said, it can't happen overnight," added Scozzafava.
After the forum, the county executive said he was pleased to see the level of turnout from local leaders, all of which he said helps get discussions going.
"They're here tonight to engage with some of the top-level people in New York state about how they can do their job better. And taxpayers can benefit from less costs and we can draw in more economic development," Edwards said to The Post-Journal. "So I want to thank everybody for turning out tonight.
"It was very invaluable. A lot of great ideas where shared. ... They were able to bring with them new opportunities for us as municipal leaders to fund the decisions we need to make at no costs to the taxpayers."
Asked what was the next step in consolidation talks, Edwards said local leaders need to turn to their neighboring towns and villages to look at what can be done to streamline costs. He noted significant state grants available that will assist in consolidating duplicate services.
"I think these local municipal leaders are excited about the potential to move forward with some very challenging projects, but now have help from the state and take that very important next step," Edwards said, "and that's identifying what efficiencies can be made by better working in a collective manner."
The county executive said he hopes to hold a second forum on consolidation discussions with county residents in the near future.