The Last Breakfast

CHAUTAUQUA – Emotions ran high Friday morning as County Executive Greg Edwards spoke at his final annual Chamber of Commerce County Executive Breakfast.

Each year, the Chamber of Commerce hosts the event to provide an opportunity for the business community to hear directly from the county executive and to exchange questions and share concerns. This year’s breakfast was held at the Chautauqua Golf Club.

Edwards, who announced in April he will not be seeking a third term as county executive, became emotional during the breakfast, as he thanked and recognized those he has worked with over his two terms. Additionally, Todd Tranum, Chautauqua County Chamber of Commerce and Manufacturers Association president and chief executive officer, spoke highly of Edwards’ time spent as county executive.

“There are so many politicians today that are like clay,” Tranum said. “They form and reform themselves around issues. They may say something to one group of people, and then contradict themselves in another venue to get votes. Unlike these soft, clay figures I speak of, Greg Edwards has been a rock.”

When Edwards took the podium, he addressed Tranum’s comments before beginning his presentation.

“Who would have thought that a chamber meeting would be an emotional event?” Edwards asked. “I look forward every year, anxiously, for the opportunity to address the folks that are making a difference every day in Chautauqua County.”

Edwards began his presentation with a slide show, demonstrating the work that has been done over the last several years. He emphasized the decreases to the property tax rate and the sales tax rate in the county. Additionally, he said there are three to four times more services available to seniors and veterans in Chautauqua County, which cost less money.

“Chautauqua County is a government that not only can work, but has worked,” Edwards said. “We have a challenge daily to beat the comments that you’re going to see in the paper, or you’re going to hear on the radio, or see on TV. While I can’t speak for local municipalities, and I can’t speak for the state – although I’d like to, but I’ll avoid that – and I can’t speak for the federal government, we have an obligation as residents of Chautauqua County, you have an obligation as business leaders in Chautauqua County, to beat the incessant claim that Chautauqua County is broken.”

Following his presentation, Edwards recognized the people he was worked closely with over the last eight years, at times becoming emotional as he thanked them for their support.

Edwards then sat down with Tranum, to discuss some of the issues affecting the county. Tranum first questioned the NRG project in Dunkirk, questioning how the group of people gathered at the breakfast would be able to help push the project forward.

In response, Edwards acknowledged how engaged the people in the room already are.

“I ask you to continue that approach, and not move from that too far,” he said, adding that staying engaged makes people most valuable to the project. He also encouraged people to write letters and emails to Gov. Andrew Cuomo regarding the issue.

Tranum next asked about infrastructure projects in the county, especially regarding the North County Water District and the sewer district surrounding Chautauqua Lake.

Edwards responded that he and his team intend to finish out his tenure strong, especially in terms of the various sewer and water districts throughout the county. He said he continues to be committed to building sewers all the way around Chautauqua Lake, which requires significant monetary investments by the county and state.

The discussion then moved to health care, as Tranum questioned Edwards about Medicaid reform, asking what Edwards thinks the next thing is that needs to happen, in order to have reform.

“The reality is, you can’t tinker with an already broke system, and have it work properly,” Edwards responded.

Regarding the Chautauqua County Home, Edwards expressed his disappointment that the home did not sell earlier this year, when there was an interested purchaser. However, he revealed during the breakfast there may be another interested party.

“We are very close to having another buyer,” Edwards said. “So, we ask you to pay attention. … We are going to ask you to be engaged like you’ve never been engaged before.”

Edwards also said CSEA has made no concessions regarding the County Home.

“They have made no concessions,” he said. “They have made presentations as if they are willing, but there have been no concessions.”

The final topic of the breakfast was regarding Chautauqua Lake. Edwards cited the many studies and plans that have been completed and are in the works in the county, when it comes to the lake.

“I think Chautauqua Lake is such a draw by its own capacity, that all we have to do is not do any more harm and continue to invest effectively in the money we have available to us,” Edwards said.

Edwards ended the breakfast by thanking everyone for their support and the challenges raised during his time as county executive.