Is a Citizens Advisory Committee in the city of Dunkirk still a viable idea? It is if you ask a small committee of five who gathered in the second-floor conference room to discuss a number of issues that have faced the region for years.
Among the top concerns on a recent Tuesday evening was:
The city's cable access channel, which was once run by volunteers and now contracted out at a cost of $1,000 a month. Some say it was a waste of taxpayer dollars.
The historic Indian located in the city of Dunkirk is in desperate need of repairs.
More workers in City Hall than on the streets, which hinders the clearing of roads and sidewalks.
Lack of public dialogue at the council meetings. "Everybody starting from the mayor down ... said transparency ... was going to be done," said committee member Edna Sek. "It's not being done."
Repairs that are needed to the historic Indian carving, which was located on Lake Shore Drive West next to the city water plant. "It really is in sad shape," said committee chair Donna Keith.
Housing, especially the landlord-tenant issues that have been a problem for decades and leads to blight. While laws exist elsewhere, including Jamestown, Dunkirk has been non-receptive to the new law. "(These other communities) all agreed on it, but we get the excuse we cannot fund anyone (to enforce it)," said Dan McGill.
A more accessible development department to sincerely assist anyone who is interested in investing in the city. "The city needs development and people to come in ... (sometimes you get the impression) we don't want you here," said member Greg Sek, who noted there is always a complaint about money. "Yet (council) turns around and gives (the city financial director) a $20,000 raise. Where is this money coming from?"
Also at the meeting was Bill Reardon and William Rivera, second ward councilman, who was praised for his continued communication with the board.
When formed years ago, the committee worked with council. In recent years, members say, that has become an issue. "We hardly ever hear from them," McGill said. "We're kind of like in limbo."
Adding to the limbo was the resignation of two members this month. This committee, however, is not alone. Numerous non-profit agencies and organizations are finding that bringing volunteers on board can be quite a task. In this day and age, many want to serve only if they are paid for their time, which leads to dangerous consequences.
My visit to the Citizens Advisory Committee was to offer some views and hear what members were thinking. As noted above, there are quite a few items.
Sticking to one would be better than having six irons in the fire. What is the best thing the Citizens Advisory Committee could do to solve all those problems? Help promote private investment.
That is not easy in Dunkirk. But with the NRG Energy repowering moving forward, the city has a timeline of 10 years to get its act - specifically its finances - in order. In viewing the last budget, that is a start but nowhere near the drastic action needed.
Partnerships - those grown through police patrol in the town and the northern Chautauqua County water district proposal - need to be strengthened.
State Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the same person who on Dec. 15 allowed for the Dunkirk NRG repowering, has called for downsizing the far too many governments and taxing entities that exist statewide. Focusing on efficiencies, he believes, will bring a future savings to current taxpayers.
Who knows? Maybe those savings will someday lead to increased private investment. If those ambitions happen, an expanded tax base, more jobs and more disposable income for purchasing and donating make their way to northern Chautauqua County.
If you think about the Citizens Advisory Committee's six items, private investment solves all those problems. Continuing to focus on fixing only each item overlooks the real problem - a government that continues to be too large, and growing, for a city of 12,300 residents.
John D'Agostino is the OBSERVER publisher. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 366-3000, ext. 401.