Republicans settle in, controlling 16 of 17 County Legislature seats

Cattaraugus County Legislature leadership was sworn in Wednesday by County Court Judge Ronald Ploetz. From left are: Assistant Majority Leader Norman Marsh, R-Little Valley; Vice Chairman Andrew Burr, R-Gowanda; Majority Whip Kelly Andreano, R-Olean; Chairman Howard VanRensselaer, R-Randolph; Majority Leader Michael Brisky, R-Franklinville and Minority Leader David Koch, D-Salamanca.

LITTLE VALLEY — Cattaraugus County lawmakers reorganized for 2020 on Wednesday with Republicans controlling 16 of the 17 County Legislature seats.

New Legislature Chairman Howard VanRensselaer, R-Randolph, promised to “work hard for the Legislature and all of the constituents of Cattaraugus County.”

VanRensselaer added: “It is important to me that we begin to heal and work together after all of the turmoil that existed over the last few years.”

That was a reference to the “bipartisan majority” that elected former Legislature Chairman James J. Snyder, R-Olean, two years ago, much to the consternation of Republican leaders. Snyder cobbled a majority made up of five Democrats and four Republicans.

VanRensselaer said legislators should “preserve and grow” the county’s robust surplus.

He also said there are “great opportunities” for economic development with the county’s share of any upcoming settlement between the Seneca Nation and New York state over casino revenue sharing funds. A framework for economic development needs to be agreed upon.

VanRensselaer also wants to hold the line on taxes.

“The overtaxed citizens of our county do not want higher taxes to fund their government, therefore, we must look to trim our bureaucracy where we can with the help and direction of our County Administrator Jack Searles,” he said.

Vice Chairman Andrew Burr, R-Gowanda, said that since his arrival two years ago the Legislature “has been a very Balkanized political body. The first two years of my public service have been a tumultuous and difficult journey.”

Burr said he’s looking for “a constructive governing arrangement based on mutual respect and public trust. We cannot allow our differences to paralyze us like Washington, D.C.”

Burr also said the county road program is “significantly underfunded” and he called for it to be addressed. The casino windfall will provide money for economic development and other capital projects, he said.

Burr, who as vice chairman will be the Finance Committee chairman, said the use of the fund balance should be curtailed to help improve the county’s balance sheet.

Minority Leader David Koch, D-Salamanca, the lone Democrat on the Legislature, said, “I am very pleased to announce that I have been chosen unanimously by my caucus to serve as minority leader.”

Koch added: “Even though I am a minority caucus of one, I hope to work with everyone in this room, in a bipartisan effort, to provide the best services possible to our fellow county residents.”

Burr announced that Michael Brisky, R-Franklinville, would be majority leader; Norman Marsh, R-Little Valley, would be assistant majority leader and Kelly Andreano, R-Olean, would be majority whip.

Legislators approved the appointment of Ashley Milliman as county attorney to succeed Thomas Brady at $4,711 biweekly. Brady was appointed last year after the resignation of former County Attorney Eric Firkel.

Diane Graham was named to succeed Karen Burr as assistant to the County Legislature.

During the reorganization meeting, legislators designated official depositories and named the Olean Times Herald the official Republican newspaper and Democratic newspaper.

A resolution was approved authorizing the Cattaraugus County Industrial Development Agency to offer tax breaks to a North Union Street redevelopment project in Olean, Yippity Skippity Realty LLC.

The project involves first-floor retail development and upper-floor apartments.

(Contact reporter Rick Miller at Follow him on Twitter, @RMillerOTH)