JAMESTOWN – The candidates for Chautauqua County Executive addressed their plan to keep youth from moving out of the area and their plan to spend the American Rescue Plan money during a debate Thursday night.
The discussion, co-hosted by WRFA-LP, Media One Group Radio and WNY News Now, featured incumbent Executive PJ Wendel (R-Lakewood) and challenger Norm Green (D-Dewittville).
“In all cases, I have been a person who watches the budget, making sure that spending is done as it should be,” says Green a former Election Commissioner, who highlighted his past experience as Ellicott Town Councilman where the budget did not increase the entire four years he spent in the position.
Current County Executive PJ Wendel assured voters that strong, proven leadership is the path forward, as he highlighted accomplishments in his fourteen years as an elected official.
“Under my leadership, we have met the challenges of COVID, reinvented how we do business, and provided our residents with a lean and efficient county government,” said Wendel. “Last year, I spoke of fiscal responsibility. We accomplished that with a sound, fiscally responsive county budget. For the second year in a row, providing tax relief.”
Green suggested that Wendel’s lack of guidance during the pandemic contributed to the two hundred COVID-related deaths in the county.
“We had a County Executive, by leadership, leadership failure, telling people ‘Wearing your mask is an option, it’s a personal choice. Getting vaccinated is a personal choice.’ You need to have a leader that tells you, ‘Hey everybody, we need to get vaccinated, you need to mask up, we need to protect our citizens.’ Didn’t have it,” states Green.
Green also claims that under Wendel’s leadership, the county’s population has declined while poverty rates climbed.
“One out of five people in Chautauqua County is living in poverty, and we need to do something about it,” says Green. “We need to redirect leadership in the county.”
Wendel says this has been the case since 2014, and the solution to stop population decline starts with kids.
“What we need to do is ask our children, and ask ourselves, why are we telling our kids to leave? Why are we having those problems?,” stated Wendel. “And then we need to correct those problems. We have jobs here in Chautauqua County.”
Additionally, the candidates were asked how they would allocate money from the American Rescue Plan and Opioid Settlement. Both agreed that the best use of Opioid Settlement funds is to combat addiction by creating more space at rehab centers. However, they differed on the use of ARPA funds.
“The ARPA monies are being funneled in a way that we share them with everybody, and people across the county are being helped,” assures Wendel. “For example, 360,000 thousand dollars are being spent on two pieces of detection equipment in the jail. What is that gonna do? It’s gonna prevent overdoses and prevent drugs and contraband from getting into our jails.”
Green noted that Wendel failed to mention the $8 million, roughly one-third of the ARPA money, is allocated for sewage treatment lines along Chautauqua Lake, which he believes will not substantially increase water quality.
Other topics included access to affordable and reliable internet, their stance on exemptions to vaccine mandates, workforce shortages, poverty, and the harmful algae of Chautauqua Lake.
The full debate can be watched below or on Channel 716 on Roku.