MAYVILLE - It was a thorough first State of the County address for Vince Horrigan on Wednesday night.
The county executive touched on Chautauqua County's past successes, present concerns and future priorities in a 25-minute speech to legislators, county workers and members of the community.
To start, Horrigan said there were many successes to celebrate.
He said a recent $1 million state grant will help with the completion of the north county water district, and that he was committed to the project.
He also cited the repowering of Dunkirk's NRG plant, which was announced in late 2013.
"The successful repowering of NRG in the city of Dunkirk will provide a reliable source of clean gas energy and a stable tax base in Dunkirk and our schools," he said. "This is the result of a coalition of people in government, the private sector and our labor force."
Horrigan commended several county employees for their efforts in reducing costs to the county, such as Marge Johnson, director of temporary assistance, and her staff at the Health and Human Services Department.
Due to reforms in public assistance and a reduction of participant caseloads, he said $5 million has been saved by the county.
He also thanked Mark Geise, executive director of the County Land Bank, for his "visionary leadership," and efforts to demolish 80 derelict structures throughout the county in the coming year.
"In spite of our tremendous successes, and there are many, we also have to recognize that we have to deal with our realities," Horrigan said.
Those realities, he said, included the fact that the manufacturing sector had been hit especially hard with a slow recovery from the Great Recession.
"The recent terrible news of 425 jobs losses and the closure of Carriage House in Dunkirk and Fredonia reminds us that we must do everything possible to retain our precious jobs," Horrigan said, adding that efforts to develop strong relationships with out-of-county corporation owners were necessary.
He said he would work hard to find a new operator to make use of the facilities left by ConAgra next year.
Other concerns included high substance abuse and drug addiction statistics; an aging infrastructure of sewers, roads and water systems; high property taxes; state mandates; and the absence of an airline carrier at the Jamestown Airport, to which he said a request for proposals had been completed and he was hopeful that by the end of April a new carrier would be found.
"You've heard the good news and you've heard the realities," Horrigan said. "What is the current state of our county? I call it ready ready for growth."
He said the county will grow by working together through what he referred to as Operation Jump-Start, a multi-step plan for success.
First, he said privatization and public/private opportunities must be exploited to reduce the cost to government.
"Privatization is the only way to cut down government taxation, while still providing services through the private sector where possible."
He added that in order to keep property taxes under control, eliminating redundancy and sharing services between between municipalities was essential.
"We need to measure our outcomes and use a team-based approach to find solutions," he said.
Furthermore, he said the key to tax relief was growth of the tax base.
Horrigan said he was in regular contact with state and federal representatives to find robust incentive packages to put people to work in Chautauqua County.
"Internship programs need to be maximized to keep our graduates here," he said.
In other matters, he said the completion of a sewer district around Chautauqua Lake would aid in economic development, while tourism was also high on his list of priorities
"This is just the beginning of growing this sector of our economy in Chautauqua County," he said. "The tourism industry is set for take off," he said, adding that tourism accounts for $200 million in revenue annually for the county. "We need to create world-class customer service to make a lasting impression of excellence in hospitality for our visitors."
Horrigan said Dunkirk's waterfront development project was important, along with Jamestown's National Comedy Center, which will bring 125,000 visitors annually and over $26 million in tourism.
"To facilitate the visitor draw from Buffalo and Canada, we must set a goal of turning Route 60 from the highway of death into a four-lane road over time by adding passing lanes," he continued. "We need to reduce our accidents and facilitate the desire to come to Chautauqua County through a real-time transportation system."
In order to succeed with his plan of action, Horrigan said he was modeling Operation Jump-Start after a plan put together by Oswego County, which involves bringing together key leaders from various sectors of the county and government to create innovative solutions.
"Creativity, trust and collaboration will be used to forge new solutions, ways of thinking and results," he said.
The county executive finished his address by telling legislators and community members that he wanted to work as a team.
"We have all the pieces for growth, we just need to fit the puzzle together," he said. "We will continue to celebrate our successes, and our success and growth depends on all of us working together."