BROCTON — No other elected official can compare with village Trustee Drew Ransom when it comes to showcasing their hometown spirit. At nearly every monthly meeting, Ransom sports a baseball cap with the phrase, “Make Brocton Great Again.”
You have to admire his enthusiasm.
During a meeting earlier this month, Ransom’s efforts to restore the basketball courts took a bounce in the right direction despite some dissension. Funds from a stipend of fellow board member Mark Belcher will be used to assist in the project that will be located on Kinney Street near the fire hall.
“Why have we got problems with the youth? What do they got to do?” Ransom asked. “We’ve got to give them something to do.”
For Ransom, who has served just over seven months in a role of trustee after winning election in November, it is a small victory of sorts. In the larger scope, the village is one of many Western New York municipalities that have suffered a downturn over the last half century.
Brocton, located halfway between the upper-scale Fredonia and Westfield, has a lot of work to do in attempting to revitalize its struggling downtown. Empty storefronts, decaying structures are what capture the attention of Route 20 motorists before the historic arch at its center that displays the village’s name.
One of the gems on that strip is the rebuilt Tri-Church Parish on Main Street. It rose from the ashes after a mindless arson at the previous site in 2013 that led to a conviction of a Dunkirk man three years later.
Like so many other communities in our area, Brocton could benefit from a bit of private investment. Expectations from residents — some nearly 30 years ago — were attached to a project outside the village limits in the Lakeview Shock Incarceration Center.
Built with state funds, there was hope the facility through its work force could boost the economy in the village. That never truly materialized as many of those who are employed at the location live elsewhere.
There also has been talk in the past decade by previous village officials of making a push for an exit off the state Thruway as an attempt to bring in more traffic. That proposal never left the starting line.
Ransom’s goal of a revitalized basketball court does have one other silver lining: it calls on the partnership the village of 1,300 residents shares with the town of Portland. Ken Becker, who serves as highway superintendent for both entities, will oversee the blacktop work for the project.
Though this is not a discussion by the current board, Brocton could go the way Forestville already has in dissolving its $2.6 million government. For what it’s worth, there has been no major outcry for this option due to the fairly quiet trustee meetings monthly. Other than a number of concerns on deteriorating properties and unlicensed dogs, Brocton appears to be a sleepy village that comes to life only mornings and afternoons Monday to Friday when school is in session.
If Brocton did go that route, they would be in good hands. The town of Portland, led previously by Supervisor Dan Schrantz and now by Richard Lewis, is always businesslike while looking for common ground — for residents and businesses. Even contentious meetings when solar and wind projects were discussed in 2019 were always filled with respect.
In many ways, Brocton-Portland is a better match than the current situation to the north. Forestville, with serious debt, leadership problems and even the possible theft of water fund money, had run its course. Former village residents were fed up after a more than 112% tax increase in 2014 that made headlines across Western New York.
In dissolution, Hanover with lackluster leadership by outgoing Supervisor Todd Johnson, took over the former entity but it still does not seem like much of a partnership. For those in Forestville, there is definitely a disconnect.
That would not be the case in Brocton-Portland, which already partners on so many initiatives due to strong bonds by both the Town and Village boards. Ransom, in his innocence, wants Brocton “great again.”
For a struggling north county, that alone is a heavy lift for any one entity. If progress is actually going to happen, it needs to come with collaboration.
Previous Chautauqua County executives Vince Horrigan and George Borrello, our current state senator, had that vision for regional initiatives that included a water district and lake partnerships. Our current county leadership, especially Thursday, pins its hopes on overstated press conferences displaying shiny buses with a catchy new logo.
Those vehicles may get a few area residents to where they need to go. But they are not doing anything to move this county forward.
John D’Agostino is the editor of The Post-Journal, OBSERVER and Times Observer in Warren, Pa. Send comments to [email protected] or call 716-487-1111, ext. 253.