The Race is On! Election Season in Chautauqua County

Article Contributed by
Walt Pickut

The 2017 election season in Chautauqua County is shaping up to be a lively race between thought-provoking candidates. More than 240 individuals are now in the hunt for elected offices across the county in local villages, towns and cities.

Hometown Races
Readers are invited to visit www.votechautauqua.com. Scroll down and click on “2017 List of Candidates” to see all candidates for each office in every municipality in Chautauqua County. Websites for the County Executive and County Clerk candidates are listed on page 9 in this issue of the Jamestown Gazette.

Top of the Ballot
With combined personal incomes estimated to top $3 billion every year, the county’s 130,000 citizens control a massive and complex economy. The county’s agricultural business, to name only one sector, is the largest in the entire state of New York and rivals that of many states in the nation.
It is no wonder the top position, the race for Chautauqua County Executive, is hotly contested this year.

Notable So Far
In spite of – and perhaps because of – such high stakes, a very welcome civil tone has marked the campaign so far. Both candidates, George Borrello, (Rep, Cons, Ind) and Mike Ferguson (Dem, Work. Fam, Women Equal) have publically recognized their opponent’s prior successes and agreed with certain of their policies, initiatives and goals. The differences merit a deeper dive into backgrounds, priorities and strategies.

Important Differences?
This year’s campaign shapes up as an “Outsider/Insider” race for some voters.

Some prefer a candidate who will bring new insights to elected office, with no prior entangling and complicated political deals and favors to keep, but with a strong history of success in important local businesses, foundations and civic organizations – a recognized community activist and opinion leader. Mike Ferguson lays claim to this important distinction saying, “I’ve left every place I’ve been better than I found it.”

Inside, working knowledge of the county’s political systems and dedicated work-force, including eight years as a current Chautauqua County legislator, and many years of successful business ownership, are offered by George Borrello who says his campaign motto, “Better well done than well said,” reflects the quality of his work in Mayville and with state government in Albany.

Please Note: The following is a sample of the candidates’ publically stated positions on two key issues only, not a description of their full platform. Attend campaign functions and meet the candidates in person with questions and concerns, and visit their websites and social media to learn “the rest of the story.”

George Borrello

Two Big Challenges
The county’s two biggest challenges as noted in a recent unofficial Jamestown Gazette poll include: A.) The exploding drug problem and public safety, and B.) Jobs and taxation – among many other concerns. We asked for the candidates’ ideas on these two key issues.

A. Attacking the Drug Crisis
Both Borrello and Ferguson have held in-depth fact-finding sessions with the Chautauqua County Sherriff’s office, county social and health services, counseling agencies, local law enforcement officers and elected officials concerning the drug crisis.

Education as a Cure
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” George Borrello said. He cites jail overcrowding, especially with addicts, as a system that can be fixed. The program he promotes, CAER, the Countywide Alliance for Education and Rehabilitation, places Education before Rehabilitation in its name because of that wise old saying. This includes reviving strong school programs that stress the dangers of drugs and the peers and culture that surround them.

Borrello told of one student who, based on a warning he heard in school, refused his doctor’s prescription for opioids to treat a painful injury, choosing instead to use over-the-counter painkillers as a perfectly adequate alternative. Borrello also blames “Big Pharma” drug companies as favoring profits over patient safety in encouraging doctors, dentists and others to prescribe too-liberal doses of opioids for acute care.

As a county legislator, Borrello championed the move for Chautauqua County to join a statewide lawsuit, demanding reparations like the landmark multibillion-dollar tobacco settlement of a few years ago, against the pharmaceutical companies that aggressively advertised their brands of opioids as safe to (over) prescribe as “perfectly not addictive.”

Making Life Miserable
“We have to make life so miserable for drug dealers that they simply go away,” Mike Ferguson said. “Law enforcement is doing a great job, but the job isn’t over yet and we need to give them more help and more tools.” He plans to work closely with Homeland Security and other law enforcement agencies on this priority.

A second line of attack is to provide better care for addicts through the county’s drug court system, favoring treatment over criminalization of the addict, while promoting tougher handling for the dealers. Ferguson tells of one incident – which he says is not unusual – of a dealer who physically captured a recovering addict who was well along in her return to normal life and forcibly injecting her with heroin to re-enslave her back into addiction. “People who contribute to an overdose death by selling or sharing drugs should be prosecuted for homicide,” Ferguson added.

Ferguson proposes creating a countywide Project Manager to apply all best-practices in both treatment and law enforcement.

Mike Ferguson

Candidates Agree
Both candidates described many areas of agreement, including long-term addiction recovery systems. Medical recognition is now nearly universal that 30-day-recovery plans have failed. Successful, full recovery from opioid addiction requires as much as 12 to 16 months in carefully managed care. Special “Treatment Pods” should also be established in jails to begin the recovery process for incarcerated addicts who are “stealing and dealing” – a term used by both candidates – to support their habits.

Both candidates also expressed support for national legislative initiatives like that of Erie County (PA) Executive Kathy Dahlkemper further restricting opioid prescriptions.

Vivitrol ® and suboxone, drugs that suppress cravings and reverse opioid effects, are also keystones in the recovery programs proposed by both candidates. Both also blamed the drug epidemic for unemployment, citing numerous business owners who claim that many job applicants now do not pass a pre-employment drug test.

B. Taxes, Income and Jobs
Few issues are as challenging today as government and personal finances. Both candidates agree on this and offer proposals that overlap in some details and differ in others.

Chautauqua County recently raised its sales tax to 8.00 percent to prevent property tax increases. Income tax is now at 6.45 percent. The per capita income is $22,483 [including all adults and children] while median household income is $42,720. Though the county’s unemployment rate has dropped to 5 percent, nearly one-in-five Chautauqua County’s citizens live below the poverty line. [The national average is 14.7 percent.]

Bring Them Home
“We must bring new people to Chautauqua County,” Mike Ferguson said, “and bring people back home who left.” He notes that the county’s workforce and tax base have dropped. Yet, the 2018 budget proposes an increase in cost. “We are elected to use taxes wisely,” he added, “and that can be done better than we have.”

Ferguson’s plan calls for attracting new entrepreneurs and support for local businesses, including enhanced marketing of Chautauqua County’s excellent business infrastructure, like its unique connectivity to national and international markets based on routes 80, 86, 90, 60, 20, 5, rail service and others.

Noting his prior long-term service on the board of the Lucille Ball Comedy Center, for example, Ferguson observed that at least four new downtown Jamestown business opened already based in part on projected visitor traffic the Comedy Center will bring to town.

“Tax breaks to attract businesses must be tied to guarantees of performance and job creation,” Ferguson said. “Businesses have to have some skin in the game to justify our partnership,”

“We also have to concentrate on creating more ‘shovel ready’ business building sites,” he added. Vacant property alone will not attract new businesses without basic infrastructure like water, sewers, electric and internet services, phone lines, good roads, and more. Ferguson slates this as a high priority for his administration.

Better Together
As Regional Solutions Commission Chairman, County Legislator Borello recently spearheaded winning a $50,000 grant in June in the New York Municipal Consolidation and Efficiency Competition (MCEC). This makes Chautauqua County a finalist in the running for the ultimate $20 million grant. “We’re in a great position to bring it all home to Chautauqua County,” Borello said.

George Borrello sees duplication of government services and multiple layers of bureaucracy as a ripe target for savings and tax reductions. “Consolidations, like the one that the Chautauqua County Legislators recently facilitated, create huge tax savings and welcome economies for local governments.

Borrello cites Forestville, NY that recently dissolved its expensive village government, paid for by only 400 residents, in favor of uniting with Hanover, already well equipped for the job. One-time Forestville residents dropped their taxes by 55 percent. The merged community also enjoyed a tax credit equal to 15 percent of their combined property tax levy. The recent merger of the Cherry Creek village with the town of Cherry Creek provides a similar example.

Fewer levels of government will also ease regulatory hurdles and predictability for new businesses, improving recruiting to attract new entrepreneurs to Chautauqua County.

Vote Locally
Every one of the 240 plus races count this year. No elected official can serve without cooperation and good will between all levels of government and the people they serve. It has been said that a well-informed electorate is necessary for democracy to work. The Jamestown Gazette invites all citizens to carefully study the candidates and the issues before voting. The alternative could be a government to complain about until the next election.