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MAHONING COUNTY Board steps up efforts to consolidate JFS divisions



Published: Wed, February 12, 2003 @ 12:00 a.m.



A county official said the agencies will be consolidated later this year.

By BOB JACKSON

VINDICATOR COURTHOUSE REPORTER

YOUNGSTOWN -- It's been four years since Mahoning County commissioners started looking for a building to consolidate the county's Department of Job and Family Services, but nothing has changed.

The human services division is still housed in McGuffey Plaza on the city's East Side, and the Child Support Enforcement Agency is in the Erie Terminal building on Commerce Street downtown.

Commissioners have twice started seeking consolidated office space, but backed off both times without following through. County Administrator Gary Kubic said this is the year it finally will happen.

"It's just time," Kubic said. "We really have to do this for the community and the people we serve."

Getting the two divisions of JFS under one roof will make it easier for people who have to deal with both agencies, Kubic said.

Dee Crawford, JFS executive director, said it will also create substantial savings in costs.

"I would love it," Crawford said. "It would be so much cheaper."

Largest budget items

Crawford said personnel and occupancy costs are her two largest budget items. JFS has a combined 400 employees with an $11 million annual payroll. With benefits included, the personnel cost rises to about $16.5 million.

Crawford said it would be much easier to manage the department if both divisions were housed together. It will also be easier for employees to interact and share information, she said.

Besides savings in rent and related costs, Kubic said, consolidation will enable the county to eliminate about $250,000 a year worth of personnel, mostly management staff with duplicative jobs.

The county's long-term leases on office space for the agencies have expired, so commissioners are paying month-to-month. James Fortunato, purchasing director, said the county pays $31,471 a month for the McGuffey Plaza space and $33,595 a month for the Erie Terminal.

Kubic said commissioners aren't sure whether they'll look for vacant office space or put up a new building.

Keeping options open

"All we're doing is keeping our options open and available," Kubic said, noting that commissioners will work with city officials in seeing "how we can assist their vision of what they want the downtown to be in terms of government offices."

In 2000, the county merged its human services and child support enforcement agency to form the job and family services.

In anticipation of the merger, commissioners sought bids in 1999 to put the agencies in one building. At the time, they also intended to include the Children Services Board, which is in the South Side Annex on Market Street, in the Uptown District.

They pulled the plug on that plan because of a state initiative under the Workforce Investment Act, which merged the Ohio Department of Human Services and Bureau of Employment Services. Commissioners wanted to see whether they would be required to include the local OBES office in the relocation, so they did not proceed.

Another reason for halting the 1999 plan was that the bidding specifications were too confusing.

More groundwork

In 2001, commissioners again laid groundwork for consolidation bids, this time without the CSB. Commissioners plan to move CSB out of the annex into a new building on the Masters block on Federal Street downtown, though those plans have stalled for now.

"We still intend to do that," Kubic said, noting that commissioners have been occupied with passage of a county sales tax and dealing with budget problems.

Bids for a consolidated JFS office never were sought in 2001 because commissioners weren't happy with the direction the project seemed headed in prebid meetings.

"Wherever we go, it's going to be for at least 20 years," Kubic said. "We just want to make sure the move we make is the right one for the county."

Kubic said the county might try to locate JFS with or near children services, because the trend in many other counties is development of a social services campus.

Reid Dulberger of the Youngstown Central Area Community Improvement Corporation said the consolidation concept has been discussed for years. When the county decides it's ready to proceed, the CIC is ready to help, he said.

Dulberger is the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber's appointee to the CIC.

"Our interest is in seeing this development in, or as near to, downtown as possible," Dulberger said. "We think there are some sites that would be able to accommodate this complex."

bjackson@vindy.com




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