Steve Havey has announced his intention to seek re-election to the Allegany County Legislature, District 4(Wellsville, Andover). We had this digital conversation talking about his time so far in Belmont and what his hopes are should he be re-elected.
Steve, first of all thanks for the service you have provided to District 4 residents. We all know its been a rough time to be in politics, thankless to say the least. Tell us how why you are going “back for more”?
Havey: Thanks, Andrew for this opportunity to share some thoughts on the position of Allegany County Legislator. First of all, I have not found this experience “Thankless” at all. I have met many Allegany County residents that are very aware of how our government works and appreciate our effort. I will admit that it is often too easy to place blame on elected officials. We accept that and try not to take it personally. Integrity is one of the cornerstones of my service and it was tested during my first term. My integrity did not budge, and I guess I picked up a political enemy or two. That was the only time that my experience was less than pleasurable.
Allegany County is a political paradox: We have the highest taxes, the lowest incomes, and the majority of the population either works for the government, or relies on government assistance. You and your fellow legislators are 100% Republican, often rail against the evils of socialism, but don’t seem to do much about it. Why doesn’t this conservative super-majority take bold measures to buck the status quo?
Havey: You are right. We do have high taxes and many residents do not enjoy a comfortable wage. So, how do we fix that? If it was easy, it would have been fixed by now. We have seen manufacturing diminish, retail industry shrink and it feels like we can see prosperity slipping away. The solution, or part of it, is development. We have to think differently and expect to find different solutions. Dresser-Rand is not coming back but the Wellsville Business Park will support a number of similar businesses. The K Mart closed but the possibility remains to fill that space with another type of business or businesses that are currently enjoying growth. Great Lakes Cheese plans to build a new plant at Crossroads. This will create 200 new, good-paying jobs. With development, employment and wages will rise and drive your taxes down.
Speaking of taxes, your Allegany County Legislators have reduced your property tax rate per thousand dollars of assessed value, for 9 years in a row. It was a team effort but we were determined to get that done. As you mentioned, the legislature is 100% Republican. I know that Republicans don’t have the market cornered on patriotism, passion or good ideas. Competition is good for us all. I would urge the Democrats to put forth their ideas and candidates!
A recent county report about the county wide shared services plan was eye-opening. Most of the members of that panel indicated that, “We already share services with multiple entities”. Considering the circumstances should the taxpayer be satisfied with that ?
Havey: Never be satisfied! We aren’t. Everyone recognizes that our local towns and villages (and the county) have been doing “more with less” for a long time. Each town or village board squeezes the last bit of productivity to serve their residents and stay under the tax cap. If you look closely, you will find that towns and villages have found ways to share services out of necessity before it was a buzz-word. They will, as they have in the past, find new ways to share services. Shared services is a journey, not a destination.
You spent many years in the retail consumer goods business at KMart. Like many around the nation, that store sits empty. Covid 19 seems to have permanently changed the way Americans shop for retail products. Is the big-box model dead in America? How can we use our empty big box in the future to save the property?
Havey: Regarding the future of brick-and-mortar retail, companies have a new and unique challenge. They have to get their customer off the couch and into their stores. The answer is “the experience”. To save brick-and-mortar retail, those retail businesses will have to offer you a shopping experience worth leaving home for. They have to encourage you to browse. To handle the merchandise. They will have to give you better, friendlier service than your laptop can. Some malls have created a “destination” that makes you want to be there even if you don’t buy a thing. An example would be a mall that dedicated one floor to an amusement park to attract families. You can’t get that on your laptop.
Regarding the vacant store in RiverWalk, finding a 95,000 square foot retailer will be hard. Let’s think outside the box. Multiple retailers would be a good option. How about a warehouse? Call center? Maybe thinking further outside the box would yield residential units or office space. All would create jobs. I know that there are folks smarter than I trying to work this problem, right now, as you are reading my thoughts. Keep your fingers crossed.
After your Kmart days you spent quite a bit of time on Main Street as the director of the Wellsville Chamber of Commerce. Things are looking pretty good on the ‘main drag’ lately with few vacancies, a new garden, new crosswalks, and ‘portal’ from the 417/19 intersection. What does this decade have in store for Main Street Wellsville?
Havey: Huge progress has been made in the business district of Wellsville. It is an intact “Norman Rockwell” Main Street. Most empty storefronts have been filled and new business ideas seem to turn up daily. The Village, Chamber, and Wellsville Development Committee have been busy and it shows. There are new Landmark Society grants available that will help shine it up as well. As you know, I also represent the village and town of Andover. Those Landmark Society grants would work great there as well. Now let’s have a summer where we can show off a bit!
Conversely, the Wellsville political landscape is not so pretty. Uncontested elections in a climate dominated by one party is concerning. Are we choosing leaders in the Republican caucus instead of by elections? How does the proposition of ‘open primaries sit with you?
Havey: As I mentioned earlier, I welcome candidates from other parties. That is how other ideas are introduced and celebrated. However, if you look closely at our District 4 Republican candidates, you will see a very contested election, with five candidates and three open seats. Vote for your favorite!
On the idea of Open Primaries, I’m not a fan. If someone could explain their advantage to me, I would reconsider my opinion. An Open Primary seems like “No Primary” to me. Am I wrong?
Your last term in Belmont seems pretty uneventful from the layman’s perspective. Can you tell us about some of the successes during that term?
Havey: I would suggest to you that an “uneventful term” is a well-run term. An administration that is constantly putting out fires and coping with chaos is fun to watch, but not professional nor efficient. As a team, this legislature made “the trains run on time” while making positive improvements to move the county forward. Part of running a stable administration is doing the hard thing, like passing a workable budget that lowers your tax rate, allows for stability, growth and stays below the tax cap. That has been done consistently over the course of this administration. Also, because of our favorable financial situation, we were able to re-finance debt and save $1.5 million in finance charges, which the taxpayer was on the hook for. We have new wind and solar projects started, re-branded our Tourism efforts to “Western New York Wilds” and many other initiatives kicked off during this legislative term.
With new leadership coming to the legislature, what changes would you like to see made? Will a District 4 representative take the chairman’s seat ? If you don’t think so, why not?
Havey: With new leadership comes new ideas. I welcome new and productive changes but I don’t want to lose our current momentum that we have cultivated. I can’t predict who will be our next Chairman. We will have to see who the voters support before choosing anyone as Chairman.
Last question so let’s get personal: I know your kids and they are great humans, you have a gorgeous home and a wonderful wife. What’s your secret to success?
Havey: Thank you, Andrew, for the kind words! You are right, in my humble opinion, our daughters are terrific adults, and we could not be more proud. My home and my sanity are courtesy of my lovely, strong-willed wife Roxy. She is my “True North” and has been known to point me in the correct direction when needed.
Honestly, if I knew the secret to success, I would write a book. Maybe it is equal parts pride, humility, humor, integrity, and common sense.
Thanks for asking!