Jamestown Mayor Eddie Sundquist and Dunkirk Mayor Willie Rosas released a joint statement critical of the County Executive PJ Wendel‘s use of American Rescue Plan funds.
They called out the county administration’s lack of transparency and outreach in obtaining feedback from the community on the proposed plan. They also were critical about how the two large metropolitan cities were left out of the funding process, even after meeting with county officials.
Both mayors called on the County Executive and County Legislature to implement a transparent public feedback process for the planned use of ARP funds. Jamestown and Dunkirk both held public input sessions on proposed ARP fund spending that were facilitated by the local community foundations.
The full statement by Mayor Sundquist and Mayor Rosas is below:
As chief executives of local government offices, we fully understand the challenges that all levels of government have faced over the past year and a half in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. We continue to be proud to work together with County Executive Wendel during this time, demonstrating that all of Chautauqua County can come together for the greater health, well-being, and safety of all our residents. We also recognize the enormous assistance that the ARPA Local Recovery Funds will provide to local governments recovery efforts as well as the opportunity to improve the quality and effectiveness of our municipal services in impactful and sustainable ways.
When the County Executive presented his plan for the use of ARPA funds to the Chautauqua County Legislature last week, we were disappointed to see that no projects in either of the County’s two largest population centers were proposed. While we believed that there were worthy projects where County and City investments could be combined for greater impact, ultimately the County took a different approach. Both Jamestown and Dunkirk were granted funds, to which we are pleased to invest in our communities. However, all municipalities in the County received Local Recovery funds through ARPA. While we participated in multiple meetings with the County to find potential common areas for coordinated investment, and came away from those meetings hopeful, we were not invited to submit a formal proposal to request use of these funds. We can only speculate that
other municipalities may have been invited to formally request projects, but neither the City of Jamestown nor the City of Dunkirk was made aware of any such process.
Most critically, a clear and transparent public outreach plan from the County Executive’s office on the use of ARPA funds as well as a process for feedback from the public, businesses, non-profits, and municipalities has been lacking, and is a dereliction of the duty bestowed upon our elected officials by all those who call Chautauqua County home. We strongly believe that the public should have the opportunity to participate in the planning process regarding the proposed spending and utilization of these unprecedented funds and we have shown our commitment in our own public process. As municipal leaders, we are stewards of our city’s resources, and we have the moral and ethical responsibility to seek and take into consideration the input and feedback of our residents, businesses, non-profits and local stakeholders with regard to how our plans should direct spending allocations to projects and programs that will provide the greatest impact and address the most critical needs of our communities.
The City of Jamestown launched a public input tour and hosted several business round table discussions over the past 2 months to present the City’s proposed ARPA plan to local residents, non-profits, businesses, and stakeholders. The Chautauqua Region Community Foundation stepped up as an independent organization to assist us with the collection and distillation of feedback received, and will provide Jamestown City Council with a report and recommendations. The City of Dunkirk has partnered with the Northern Chautauqua Community Foundation, has engaged its residents and business owners with a detailed survey to help the City formulate a plan for future investment, as well as holding multiple public meetings to receive feedback. Jamestown and Dunkirk have established a roadmap for local municipalities to engage with their communities in a positive way, not only presenting the public with our draft plans, but providing them with opportunities to share input to strengthen our plans so they are holistic and benefit everyone in the community.
We call on the County Executive and the County Legislature to follow our lead and implement a transparent public feedback process for the planned use of ARPA funds, as both Jamestown and Dunkirk have effectively demonstrated. This is a once in a lifetime moment to invest in our communities. For that reason, this is not the time to dodge accountability.