Starkey Citizens for a Clean & Healthy Environment
Guest Viewpoint: County Gambled on Drilling, Now Faces Consequences

On Sept. 9, the Chemung County Legislature unanimously approved, without discussion, a plan to bail the county out of its dire financial predicament. Dire in the sense that the county budget could be short $6.5 million if the decline in sales tax revenues continues until the end of the year. For several years, Chemung County led the state in sales-tax growth, attributed to gas drilling just across the border. When that activity slowed down dramatically, so did revenues to Chemung County. The closing of Sikorsky Aircraft didn’t help, but it seems clear that misplaced confidence in continued gas industry activity in Pennsylvania was a major factor in the current budget crisis. I believe that if county officials had paid any attention to nationally respected economists such as Debora Rodgers (who gave presentations in this area twice), they would have known that the gas drilling slowdown was entirely predictable. Now the towns and villages will bear the burden of what seems to have been really questionable decision-making, since the proposed recovery plan includes reducing the share of revenues given to municipalities in order to bail out the county. I don’t know of any town or village in Chemung County that can afford to lose any of its predicted income, but our local elected officials are urged to “understand” the situation and work “cooperatively.” And they will. They are well-versed in not resisting or protesting.

However, citizens who take the time to read online the minutes of the group with the long name —The Chemung County Executive’s Advisory Commission on Natural Energy Solutions — might find plenty to protest besides the county budget woes. The group was formed and began meeting more than three years ago. The group’s meetings, unlike the meetings of similar groups in surrounding counties, have been closed to the public. Reading the minutes suggests why insightful citizens might not have been welcome at the meetings.

As ordinary citizens, we like to think we have some control over the quality of life in our communities and some role in protecting our health and safety and that of our families. Yet it seems that this premise has been undermined in the county’s strenuous efforts to welcome the gas industry.


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