MAYVILLE - Big things could be happening in Chautauqua County in the near future.
County Executive Greg Edwards delivered his State of the County address during Wednesday's legislature meeting. In the address, he reviewed the progress that has been made in the county since he stepped into the county executive position in 2006. He also outlined six items that are already under way in order to move toward a better future for the county.
Edwards gave three examples of significant events only Chautauqua County has been able to accomplish over the last seven-and-a-half years.
"No other county in New York state, not one of the other 61 counties, has achieved what Chautauqua County did this year when we merged the Department of Social Services and the Department of Health into one department called Health and Human Services," Edwards said. "This consolidation was so unique that the state had to give us a special permission to undertake this merger."
Additionally, Edwards emphasized that no other county, or even municipality in the northeastern United States, has accomplished what Chautauqua County has through the efforts of the Chautauqua County Planning Department and its partners.
"This year, as a result of the professional work of Bill Daly, Mark Geise, Jeff Diers and others, we were successful in convincing the Army Corps of Engineers to invest their own dollars in the Submerged Aquatic Vegetation Management Plan for Chautauqua Lake," Edwards said. "This federal agency agreed to do this because our work was so professional and effective that they are going to use our plan as the model for all lakes in all of the North Eastern United States on how to deal with invasive weeds."
Finally, Edwards highlighted that taxes in the county have decreased over the last seven-and-a-half years. He said that revenue from property tax, sales tax, mortgage tax and Department of Motor Vehicle fees are more than $3.5 million less this year than they were in 2006.
Edwards also encouraged legislators to sell the Chautauqua County Home, which he has spent more than a year pursuing.
"I am confident that I can develop a county budget for next year, 2014, that will have no increase in the property tax or sales tax rate, if the legislature votes tonight to sell the County Home," he said. "In this case, either we win another battle or become the enemy to our constituents. There is not one single taxpayer in our county who would have preferred to have their taxes increased over the last seven-and-a-half years as opposed to the tax decrease that has been delivered."
Looking toward the future, Edwards addressed the Sherman Department of Public Facilities shop. He revealed during his address that he has received the commitment of the village and town of Sherman to enter into a professional analysis of the collective highway efforts, to determine if it is possible to maintain the same or deliver an improved quality of service by sharing a single facility.
"This effort is focused on securing a grant to fund the independent analysis to be presented to municipalities," Edwards said. "As a result, the maintenance crew that is currently reporting to the Sherman shop is expected to continue to do that throughout this next construction season.
Edwards also addressed the Dunkirk Airport, revealing that there is an effort under way to market the airport for sale to a private entity, which he said would eliminate the county's costs for operating the airport. This would then allow the county to focus on improving the Chautauqua County Airport.
Additionally, Edwards said he has begun working to create a smoke-free environment for workers and visitors to all county operations. He said he has already begun addressing the issue with various county committee groups as well as Kitty Crow, budget director and health insurance administrator for the county.
"I will continue these discussions with management, union leadership and members from all departments and all locations of county government to join the over 200 municipalities in the state of New York who have adopted tobacco-free outdoor area policies or ordinances," Edwards said. "Public support in New York state for prohibiting smoking in outdoor areas is strong."
Also discussed was the county's partnership with the Seneca Nation of Indians, and the proposed outlet mall on Seneca property.
"It is projected that this development will create over 750 permanent jobs and over 300 construction jobs," Edwards said. "We have a proven record of success in finding ways to promote joint efforts to improve the job opportunities and economy for both our Sovereign Nation neighbors and our own residents, and I am confident that we will see this project go forward in the next 12 months."
The fifth item outlined by Edwards were two efforts that are under way, which he says will have dramatic impact on the lake. The first effort involves an organization that has been formed to pursue the development of a management organization to be the single point of direction for remedial activity on the Chautauqua Lake Watershed. The second deals with new mandates imposed by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.
Finally, Edwards outlined a north county water project.
"The most important municipal infrastructure project to be undertaken in the last 100 years has begun in Chautauqua County," Edwards said. "A north county water district has proceeded under the leadership and commitment of the Chadwick Bay Regional Development Corporation."
He continued to say that a study was completed in 2009, which analyzed the municipal water systems of the northern part of Chautauqua County. The study identified the challenges in these operations. An effort is under way to improve the process, quality and capacity, as well as reduce costs of delivering water to the people and businesses in approximately nine municipalities.
Edwards ended his State of the County address by promising to continue to find ways for businesses, friends and family to thrive in Chautauqua County.
"I invite everyone here to join in this worthy effort," he said.