FREDONIA - Although Chautauqua County Executive Vince Horrigan covered a broad spectrum of topics at Friday's Chamber of Commerce event in Fredonia, optimism about the future of the county's economy could have been used as the theme for his presentation.
The event was held at the White Inn, where several Chamber members gathered for the annual County Executive Breakfast.
Horrigan began with a recap of Operation Jump-Start, a multi-step plan for success covered in his State of the County address in March.
Vince Horrigan, pictured left, was the guest speaker at the Chamber of Commerce’s annual County Executive Breakfast at the White Inn in Fredonia on Friday morning. Pictured at right is Todd Tranum, Chamber of Commerce president.
P-J photo by Katie Atkins
"As I look forward, we have the plans in place," Horrigan said to a large audience of Chamber members. "We have great leadership and strong businesses, but we have one major challenge. We have got to grow the county, and I feel like we are poised and ready for that growth. It is essential for our tax base."
Speaking of the tax base, Horrigan said the closing of the sale of the County Home is expected to be complete by the end of the year, at which point the nursing home will be on the tax rolls.
"It was controversial, but I'm here to tell you that it's going very well," he said, adding that the skilled nursing facility's new owner, VestraCare, will expand in cardiac and Parkinson's Disease rehabilitation services and eventually, assisted living.
He also said he was confident that the majority of County Home employees will be hired by the new owners of the nursing home.
Horrigan spoke about the county's budget outlook for 2015, which heavily involves the sale of the County Home as well.
"We have an advantage this year because of the sale," Horrigan said, adding that Intergovernmental Transfer funding in the amount of more than $6 million will aid the county with additional revenue. "We're eligible for that this year and next year, so that will help us balance the budget."
He said the county has a $7 million structural deficit to close.
"We've been able to plug that in the last couple of years by pulling out of reserves," Horrigan noted. "For 2015, I expect a budget that will be able to keep services the same without going over the tax cap. We still have the deficit that we're going to have to work through over the next couple of years, but right now as I see through my crystal ball, we'll be in reasonable shape for the coming year."
In terms of lowering property taxes, Horrigan said a bigger tax base and more taxpayers are necessary for a prosperous future.
He said it was a "dark day" when he received news in April that ConAgra would be closing two plants in Fredonia and Dunkirk, at a loss of 425 jobs.
However, he said five businesses are interested in the property.
"It's time to spark a new day, and find new businesses and new jobs, while expanding our existing businesses," he added.
With the help of the new director of the Chautauqua County Industrial Development Agency, Kevin Sanvidge, Horrigan said the future is bright for economic development.
"Kevin and his team are ready to take this forward, and I'm excited about that," he said. "There is some renewed energy. We have great opportunities before us."
In other matters, Horrigan said he wanted to encourage tourism and welcome Buffalo and Niagara communities to the area. However, improving Route 60, "the highway of death" as he calls it, is the first step to more mobility for everyone.
"It's got to be expanded and improved, and we've got to move people from the north to the south and the south to the north in an efficient, fun way," he said.
Lastly, he said a healthy community and a strong workforce are directly tied to the growth he has spoken of for the future.
Horrigan will rely on what he calls the "Thrive Initiative," a broad-based community collaboration involving business, industry, education, not-for-profit and government foundations in order to improve the overall mental and physical health of the community. This will result in a workforce that is "ready to go," he said.