By LIZ SKOCZYLAS
OBSERVER Mayville Bureau
MAYVILLE - Although he is not seeking a third term, Chautauqua County Executive Greg Edwards admits there is still work to continue over the next eight months.
The Republican announced during a press conference late Friday afternoon that after eight years, he would not be seeking re-election. However, he promised to be focused on the needs of Chautauqua County and its residents as he carries out the remainder of his term.
"It is a lot of time between now and January," Edwards said. "To set the record straight, we have a lot of things we are working on, important things that we will continue to work on. What you're going to see here out of myself and the folks who are working with me is ... we're going to finish strong. We're going to press right through the tape. We have work that people are counting on."
Among the top priorities over the next eight months, Edwards said, are the North County Water District, 2014 budget and sale of the Chautauqua County Home.
For the North County Water District, Edwards promised to continue pushing forward with every possible opportunity to put public sewers around Chautauqua Lake. Additionally, he said he remains confident the county will find the right offer for the County Home, one legislators will accept.
"Honestly, although it has been very challenging, and there have been moments of difficulty with regard to the County Home, the support that I have received in taking that important but very difficult stand has been something that I believe has really driven the overwhelming support and encouragement I received," Edwards said. "I think people realize that leaders are called upon to make difficult decisions at times and take positions that aren't always the easiest."
Although he acknowledges the next eight months may be difficult, Edwards promised to continue work as usual until his successor is sworn into office.
"All those things will continue at the breakneck speed that we have run for the last eight years, diligently doing the work that we need to do and delivering to the people, because that was part of my promise: That we were going to continue to work every day I was county executive, and the team was working with me to live up to our promises to work every day, and that's what we're going to do," he said.
Edwards decided to run for county executive while spending time on vacation with his family. According to a June 2005 article in The Post-Journal, after visiting a nephew and niece who attended college in the Columbus, Ohio, area, Edwards realized it was unlikely either would end up in Chautauqua County after graduation. He wanted to do something to change that, and assure they and his three children would be able to find well-paying jobs in the county following graduation.
It was this idea that caused Edwards to stop working as a lawyer with Fessenden, Laumer, & DeAngelo and run for county executive.
During his campaign, Edwards spoke of being a county where business development is encouraged, saying it should not be a politician's job to create new jobs, but instead to be removing roadblocks to development. He also spoke of reforming the county's Medicaid system.
In November 2005, Edwards beat two-term Democratic incumbent Mark Thomas in the race for Chautauqua County executive, with 55 percent of the vote.
"It's a humbling spot to be here tonight," Edwards said during his acceptance speech at the Jamestown Savings Bank Arena. "The job is going to be challenging but very rewarding. With your support, we can turn this county around."
In the eight years since becoming county executive, Edwards said his family has consistently sacrificed in order to change the direction Chautauqua County was headed.
"Eight years ago, taxes had been going up, the services provided by the county were in decline, and our finances were in peril," Edwards said Friday.
He highlighted the county's tax situation, saying that when he first started as county executive, taxes for county operations had been on the incline.
"Despite the constant drain of our local taxes by Albany over the last eight years, today, in 2013, these same taxes have been reduced, and this year, the taxpayers will pay $3.5 million less in taxes to Chautauqua County than they did in 2006," Edwards said.
Additionally, Edwards said county government is smaller than it was when he first started as county executive. And, he said county finances at the end of 2013 will be much better than in 2006, with a much more secure future in sight for the county.
In 2010, Edwards was the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor on a ticket with gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino. However, as he is stepping away from his role as county executive, Edwards said he currently has no intention to continue on the political path.
For more than a year, Edwards has been grabbing headlines with the proposed sale of the Chautauqua County Home, which has been met with opposition from many county residents and legislators. More recently, he has been speaking out against the SAFE Act gun-control legislation in New York state.
Reflecting on the last eight years, Edwards seemed pleased with his accomplishments.
"There are times when the job has been challenging, but it is surpassed in such a large volume by the moments that have been exhilarating in what you are able to accomplish," Edwards said.