The regional bond among Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties would be severed in a congressional split, some leaders say.
By BOB JACKSON
and DAVID SKOLNICK
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITERS
YOUNGSTOWN -- Word that Trumbull County leaders want to break away from the 17th Congressional District has raised eyebrows from officials in Mahoning County.
Mahoning County and most of Columbiana and Trumbull counties make up the 17th District. Ohio legislators are expected to announce a redistricting plan in February.
There have been rumors that Mahoning and Columbiana counties could be grouped with Jefferson and Belmont counties, and Trumbull County will be linked with Ashtabula, Lake and part of Cuyahoga counties.
Trumbull commissioners and local leaders said earlier this week that they plan to send a letter to Gov. Bob Taft listing the advantages of putting Mahoning and Trumbull in separate districts.
If that happens, it would sever the regional relationship the two counties have spent the past several years trying to develop, said Mahoning County Commissioner Ed Reese.
Federal funding: It would also put the two counties at odds when competing for federal dollars. That's one of the sore spots cited by Trumbull commissioners in their bid to break away from Mahoning.
They feel Mahoning County has gotten the lion's share of federal funding in the past, and Trumbull County has been overlooked.
But Reese said Trumbull County has received as much federal money, if not more, than Mahoning. He cited the millions of dollars that have been pumped into the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport as an example.
"If anybody should have a complaint, it should be Columbiana County," Reese said. Columbiana is the third county in the 17th district.
Columbiana County Commissioner Sean Logan said keeping the three counties intact is a secondary concern there.
"Regardless of what district we are in, we want to be a whole county," Logan said. "We want the entire county to be within a district. That's our first goal."
A small sliver of southern Columbiana County, containing about 300 voters, is in the 18th district.
Reactions: Reese said he was surprised to hear of Trumbull County's plans because no one from there had ever mentioned a problem.
"We never saw any dividing lines between the counties," he said.
David Ditzler, an Austintown Township trustee and Mahoning County Democratic chairman, said he was surprised that Trumbull County officials want a congressional district separate from Mahoning.
But Ditzler says when the congressional districts are finalized, the two counties in all likelihood will be together.
"I don't want to see the counties split because we've formed a pretty good consortium that works together on projects in the Mahoning Valley," he said. "It doesn't make good economic sense for this area to split. It would not be beneficial to us to be divided."
U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr. of Poland, D-17th, said through a spokesman that the three counties share similar economic interests and it makes sense to keep them in one congressional district.
But spokesman Charles Straub said Traficant will not take an official position on the fate of keeping the two counties in the same congressional district.
Reese said some bicounty projects, such as the Youngstown-Warren Regional Chamber, would be hurt by a split.
"Why have a regional chamber if there is no region to support?" he said.