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Mahoning County officials under pressure to improve



Published: Sun, January 13, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



While we agree with Ohio Auditor Jim Petro that it would be impossible for Mahoning County government to immediately implement the more than 200 recommendations contained in a performance audit conducted by his office, we do believe that the audit is a blueprint for change.

At the very least, therefore, we expect every elected official in Mahoning County to publicly commit to improving the way he or she conducts business so some of the cost savings identified in the audit can be realized.

Indeed, Petro contends that if all 210 recommendations were implemented, the county would save $2.7 million a year. That certainly is a worthy goal. But as the auditor points out, with 1,205 of the county's 1,800 full-time employees being represented by 18 collective bargaining agreements, some $1.2 million of the savings would have to be negotiated into union contracts.

Nonetheless, that should be viewed by the commissioners and other decision-makers as a challenge, rather than an excuse to do nothing. To put it bluntly, Mahoning County government has been studied to death. It's time to act.

For example, the state performance audit recommends that all offices use the county's centralized personnel department. We have long argued for such centralization and have gone so far as to publicly criticize those officeholders who have refused to surrender any control of their fiefdoms.

Job classification: Likewise, we have strongly endorsed the concept of a job classification plan that would apply to all county government employees. We are hard-pressed to understand why this still has not been accomplished.

There are other recommendations that demand serious consideration, such as the implementation of a new hospitalization plan to reduce rising premiums, and employee contributions for health care.

Another issue that has received our editorial support is a pay-to-stay program at the Mahoning County Criminal Justice Center. Given the rising costs of caring for inmates, we believe the time has come for Sheriff Randall Wellington and commissioners Edward Reese, Vicki Allen Sherlock and David Ludt to work out the problems that have delayed the implementation of pay-to-stay.

And then there's the auditor's recommendation on the county courts, which we wholeheartedly support because it reflects our long-held position.

Not only is Petro of the opinion that the four part-time county court judgeships should be eliminated, but he goes even further than the Mahoning County Corrections Planning Board, which is advocating the creation of three full-time county court judgeships.

Consolidation: Like us, Petro believes that a total change is necessary, one resulting in the creation of a countywide metropolitan court system for all the courts below the Common Pleas level.

Given that such a consolidation would enable the county to save $256,800 a year in rent payments -- the four county courts are located in Boardman, Austintown, Canfield and Sebring -- and end duplication of services, we urge the planning board to seriously consider the auditor's recommendation.




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