Mahoning County could form its own port authority or partner with the one in Columbiana County.
By BOB JACKSON
VINDICATOR COURTHOUSE REPORTER
YOUNGSTOWN -- A change in congressional district boundaries might lead Mahoning County officials to change the direction in which they look for economic development partners.
Commissioners are thinking of withdrawing from the Western Reserve Port Authority, which is a partnership between Mahoning and Trumbull counties.
The port authority oversees operation of the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport and promotes economic development projects in both counties. Each county contributes about $300,000 a year to cover the airport's operating costs.
But commissioners Ed Reese and David Ludt say now that Mahoning County stands to be cut in half by congressional boundaries, they're re-evaluating whether it's prudent to put all their economic development eggs in the Mahoning-Trumbull basket.
Changing boundaries: The proposed redistricting plan would put Youngstown and northeastern parts of Mahoning County in the same district as all of southern Trumbull County including Warren, Niles and Lordstown.
But the bulk of Mahoning County's territory, and about half its population, would be in a district that stretches from Milton and Jackson townships southward some 250 miles, including all or parts of 12 counties.
That district would include Boardman Township, which Reese called "the Mecca" of Mahoning County's sales tax. Though he did not have exact figures, Reese said Boardman's booming commercial district generates the lion's share of sales tax revenue for the county.
"I don't know if it's right to send that sales tax money into another congressional district" for matching funds on development projects, Reese said.
Possible alternatives: Instead, he and Ludt are mulling the possibility of linking up with Columbiana County, which would be in Boardman's congressional district and already has a successful port authority.
They are also thinking of Mahoning County's starting its own port authority and going it alone on some economic development projects.
"We need to take care of the people of Mahoning County first," Ludt said. "If it would be in our best interest to start our own port authority, then that's what we'll do."
Reese said the redistricting plan shows that the Mahoning Valley, long courted by statewide politicians because of its Democratic might, has been "politically neutered" by the lawmakers.
"We got hit below the belt," he said. "They've lost respect for us in Columbus and we have to get it back."
Commissioner Vicki Allen Sherlock said she's not sure whether she's on board with her colleagues.
"I'd like to hear more, but at this point I don't want to react too quickly," she said.
Mahoning County is still involved in viable projects with Trumbull County, including the airport and the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber of Commerce, Sherlock said, and she is reluctant to walk away from them.
A view from Trumbull: Trumbull County Commissioner Michael O'Brien agreed. He said that he understands that Mahoning commissioners are smarting from the congressional district shakeup but that he hopes they don't react to spite that political pain.
"They haven't moved Mahoning County, they just restructured some boundaries for congressional districts," O'Brien said. "What's good for one county is still good for the other."
O'Brien said the fact that some 15,000 people live in one county and work in the other is reason enough for Mahoning and Trumbull to remain economic development partners.
"No one has put up any fences," he said. "I wish they wouldn't form all their alliances elsewhere."
Reese said Mahoning County would not sever all ties with Trumbull County.
Even if it pulls out of the port authority, it would still help fund the airport, though probably not as much.
"And if GM needs something, we're going to help, there's no doubt," he said, referring to the Lordstown auto plant that employs thousands of Mahoning County residents.
That's good news to C. Dino Theofilos, port authority chairman, who said there are still many advantages to a Mahoning-Trumbull team effort.
"We're attached physically, commercially and economically," Theofilos said.
"For us to start drawing lines of demarcation and saying one side can't help the other is an injustice to the entire area. It just cuts us apart even further."