EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the third article in a four-part series highlighting a debate held at The Post-Journal between Chautauqua County executive candidates Vince Horrigan and Ron Johnson.
When it comes to the delivery of vital services - such as water and sewer - in Chautauqua County, the candidates for county executive know there is a big project in front of them.
Republican candidate Vince Horrigan believes in the power of persuasion in getting municipalities to work together toward a unified cause. On the other hand, Ron Johnson, Democratic candidate, said he looks at the projects from a business perspective, and wants to get the numbers out to the public.
"I believe the general answer to this question of essential infrastructure improvements in water and sewer and others - roads and bridges - they're all essential," Horrigan said. "They're all important. They're all the things that are going to make us competitive going forward. How do we persuade our communities that it is in their best interest, each one of their best interests, to do that? That's going to be the job of the next county executive."
The role of the county executive, Horrigan said, is to be inspiring, and to be a trusted leader. Additionally, Horrigan said he believes the county must move forward with more transparency, and trust the power of persuasion to get the projects done.
Horrigan also believes there is a way to work out how the North County Water District will be structured. Currently, he is engaged in conversation with the city of Dunkirk and other municipalities to determine how the water district will be developed. Additionally, he has had conversations with elected leaders in Fredonia.
"I believe, maybe not now but down the road, that there's an option, that there's an opportunity for Fredonia to join in on that very important infrastructure project," Horrigan said. "We're not there yet, but I believe that's possible."
As a member of the Sewer District board, he said the board has plans to connect sewers all around the lake. According to Horrigan, there are currently around 900 septic tanks feeding into the lake, putting algae into the lake, scaring tourists and property owners, and affecting economic development. Horrigan said it is the role of the county executive to persuade all parties that the goal is in their common best interest.
"As county executive, I will lead efforts through persuasion to get this done," he said. "I believe options are important. ... Option one is, we stay where we are. Option two is, we come together. We work through the options. And we don't leave the options until we get people's consensus, rather than saying, 'I've got a plan, here it is.' That's not going to work. That's what we need, options to get to where we need to go."
As for regional infrastructure, Horrigan said there is "no doubt' it is needed. He identified a division between school systems and New York state laws, saying everyone needs to reach out, respect, come together and compromise.
"My philosophy going forward on how we get this stuff done in four years, is you elect the right county executive, that is an inspire-related leader with the power of persuasion," he said.
Johnson, though, doesn't believe the project can get done in four years.
"I believe it's a bigger project than that," Johnson said. "I think we have to stop thinking small, and start thinking big about these things."
The key, according to Johnson, is finding the cost of the project, and working from there.
"I look at it as a businessman," he said. "If Chautauqua County was my business, I would have a long time ago tried to figure out how we were going to finance that sewer system that (Vince) talked about that goes around the lake. Let's look at doing. Let's not look at adding another commission, another study, another figure out how to do it. That's all going to be in the process. When we talk about vision, there's one that's a vision. Could we envision one large public works program that fixes the biggest ecological and economic problems of our time. That's north end water and Chautauqua Lake environmental issues."
Johnson said he wants to look more toward the long term and the cost of projects. He wants to get a number on the table and discuss it, and get everyone involved in one project.
"You do have to have that dream, you do have to have that vision and then everything you do works toward that end," he said. "I think we have to at least start having that conversation of what would it cost, and how we would do it. As a businessman, that's the way I plan to start that train down that road, is to try to get some of these people together. To do that, say this is what we're going to cost, this is how we're going to pay for it. When we get that done, I think the rest of it falls together."
However, according to Horrigan, Johnson's plan is already being implemented.
"We're already doing that. In the South and Center (Sewer District), we have the price tag. It's $22 million. That is really not the immediate issue. The immediate issue on this is South and Center, basically sewer lines, stops at a certain location. The connectivity between there and to go into Chautauqua Institution will require that Chautauqua Institution get out of the sewer business."
He said Chautauqua Institution has already invested in a system of its own, which is where the power of persuasion comes into play.
"We know it's $22 million," Horrigan said. "We have the plans in place. The answer to this is persuasion. What we have to do is sit down and say, 'We know the price tag.' I think the funding's available."
Horrigan said he is aware of the issues surrounding the projects. He said the key is in working through the problem, since the county knows what the price tag is, and knows there are grants to apply for to bring the cost down. However, Horrigan said the answer is in the implementation.
"I find that, through my experience ... that's where the secret is," Horrigan said. "I agree that we have to set our eyes on a goal that's going to make a major difference ... but I think we've identified it; we know where we want to go. It's the implementation through the power of persuasion that we need to get done."
Johnson did not respond to Horrigan. However, he acknowledged each candidate has a different plan of action for delivering vital services.
"We've got a couple of good, qualified candidates running," Johnson said. "We've got a different vision of where we should go and how we should get there. We've got a bit of a different vision of who needs to be part of the solution. But, I believe that the difference is, I've got a fire in my gut here. I want to see something different happen in Chautauqua County."