County Must Avoid Another NRG Ordeal

Bullet dodged. Catastrophe averted. Cliff avoided.

All are apt descriptions of the feelings of Chautauqua County, and particularly Dunkirk, residents in the wake of NRG’s agreement to repower its power plant in Dunkirk.

NRG is the county’s biggest taxpayer and is vitally important to the operation of the city of Dunkirk and Dunkirk Central School district. Closing NRG would have meant serious tax hikes for county residents. The effects would have been even worse in Dunkirk, with crippling tax hikes and service cuts necessary to balance budgets in the north county. County residents and their elected officials made a strong case to Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Public Service Commission to keep the NRG plant open.

Avoiding this singular catastrophe, however, doesn’t solve a long-term problem we face. The area has seen its share of important employers leave in the past decade, but what happens if any of the remaining bellweather companies leave? Football fans know the hail mary doesn’t work often, and the county’s luck with NRG probably is its successful hail mary heave. The near miss with NRG is the strongest argument in favor of a diversified economy that can withstand the loss of a big employer.

As we enter the new year, all levels of county government must redouble their efforts to run as lean as possible to cut their share of the tax burden on businesses. That means continued focus on mergers, consolidations and shared services to lower the overall tax burden in our county and make the county more attractive to investors. That means redoubling efforts to rebuild the growing portion of the county workforce that has come under fire for its inability to show up on time for work and to pass mandatory drug tests. That means development officials at all levels focusing on meeting the needs of a new major employer, whether it is sites or the packages necessary to entice large development.

It took a year of letters, meetings, phone calls and lobbying by elected officials and Chautauqua County residents to save NRG.

Next time, the county might not be so lucky.