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Wydysh shares key points of State of the County

Fri, Mar 8th 2024 08:30 am

By Niagara County Legislature Chairwoman Becky Wydysh

A few weeks ago, I had the honor to deliver my fifth State of the County address. I view these types of speeches – whether it’s the president delivering the State of the Union, the governor giving a State of the State, or a local official talking about their county or city – as kind of a status report on how things are going. It’s an opportunity to look back a little bit and then discuss what might be coming around the corner.

So, with that context, I want to use this month’s column to reiterate some of the important issues I touched upon in the speech. First, the State of County is strong. Our budget is in good shape and we stayed under the property tax for the 13th straight year. Our employees are doing their very best to meet and, hopefully exceed, the expectation of taxpayers in delivering services.

In the course of our team doing their job, I did challenge everyone – including myself and my fellow legislators – to not become so wrapped up in day-to-day operations that we lose sight of big-picture thinking and long-range planning. Let me emphasize: This was not a criticism, but rather a call to pursue collaboration, new ideas and fresh approaches.

That’s why I made sure to recognize one particular innovative approach from our Department of Public Works (DPW) to address the issue of lack of those with commercial driver’s licenses (CDLs). A CDL is required to drive snowplows and heavy highway equipment used for roadwork and maintenance, so it’s really important for us to have enough workers with those licenses. This shortage has been a growing problem, with school bus companies, private contractors and others competing for a very limited pool of applicants.

So, our DPW team convinced the legislature to create a truck driver/CDL trainer and four new truck driver trainee positions. The plan was to establish a new program that would have the county hire DPW workers, and as part of their work duties, have them train for their CDL. It has been a huge success. Our four trainees completed their training, passed their road test and were promoted to full-time truck drivers. And off that success, we are looking to begin recruitment of our next class in the very near future.

That’s how you solve a problem!

Economic development is another area where we have been aggressively pursuing new ideas. The Amazon project in the Town of Niagara – which, by the way, is progressing forward nicely – showed the importance of shovel-ready, developable land. And the fact is Niagara County – and really all of Western New York – has a lack of such land. This is why the county has embarked on the development of the Niagara County Business Park in the Town of Cambria.

One of the keys to moving the business park forward is securing funds to put in the necessary infrastructure. That’s why we are all excited that we were awarded $3.2 million from New York state under the FAST NY grant program. FAST NY is designed to prepare and develop sites across the state to jumpstart New York’s shovel-readiness and increase its attractiveness to large employers and high-tech manufacturing companies.

The funds will allow for site preparation including electric, gas, water and sewer extensions, extending a 13.2kV electric line to the 60-acre park, and launching planning and engineering for tapping into a nearby 115kV power line.

The business park is no small undertaking, but I believe it’s something we must do to attract investment.

There were many more topics that were covered during the speech – including inter-municipal cooperation, support for manufacturers, and frustration with New York state – that I will cover individually in future columns. If you would like to read the full State of the County address, it can be found here: https://cms5.revize.com/revize/niagaracounty/Document_center/News/State%20of%20the%20County%202024.FINAL.pdf.

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