Seven years have passed since area law enforcement agencies responded with an enthusiastic "yes" when asked whether they saw any benefit in having a regional crime laboratory in the Mahoning Valley. But the enthusiasm was tempered by economic realities, and the proposal never went beyond the talking stage. Why, then, bring it up now, when many area governments are experiencing financial hard times? Because regionalization, or consolidation, of services could result in cost savings.
There's certainly no harm in exploring different ways of governing.
The idea for a forensic center that would serve Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties was resurrected recently when Mahoning County's deputy coroner and forensic pathologist, Dr. Jesse C. Giles, resigned to take a job in Florida. Giles' departure, after seven years on the county's payroll, means that Coroner Dr. David Kennedy must now send bodies to a forensic center in Cleveland for autopsies. At a cost of $1,040 a piece -- the charge includes courtroom testimony by forensic experts -- Kennedy isn't keen on continuing this arrangement indefinitely. With Mahoning County needing about 150 autopsies a year, the $156,000 tab is $40,000 more than what Giles was paid.
No replacement, yet
While it may not seem like a huge sum, $40,000 in the current fiscal climate does justify an examination of other options. And given that Mahoning County has not been able to find a replacement for Giles -- it has been a month since the position was advertised -- commissioners Edward Reese, Vicki Allen Sherlock and David Ludt are on the right track in creating a task force to study the feasibility of a forensic center.
According to county Administrator Gary Kubic, the task force will develop the framework for the establishment of a facility, after which the coroner and commissioners will decide whether to approach Trumbull and Columbiana counties.
If they do, they will find receptive ears -- at least from commissioners Michael O'Brien in Trumbull and Sean Logan in Columbiana. O'Brien and Logan are careful not to make any commitments, but they do acknowledge the need for all three counties to work together.
Trumbull County has a forensic pathologist who is paid $109,000 a year. In addition to doing autopsies, Dr. Humprhey Germaniuk holds seminars for police and fire departments throughout the county. O'Brien made it clear that Germaniuk, who was chief forensic pathologist in Washington, D.C., is doing an exceptional job and must be retained.
Given that neither Mahoning nor Columbiana counties has a pathologist, it makes sense for the Mahoning Valley to hold on to someone with Germaniuk's experience and knowledge. In Colum biana County, bodies are sent to the Cuyahoga County coroner's office for autopsies.
A regional forensic center might well be beyond the Valley's ability to pay for it -- the cost of a new building and the equipment for a laboratory has been estimated at $2 million -- but that should not dissuade officials in the tri-county area from discussing the issue.