LaTourette suggests 3 area counties join Appalachian group
Mahoning and Trumbull counties' officials are interested in the congressman's idea.
By DAVID SKOLNICK
VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- U.S. Rep. Steven C. LaTourette wants Mahoning, Trumbull and Ashtabula counties to join the Appalachian Regional Commission, which would open another avenue to federal funds for those portions of Northeast Ohio.
"It would mean a lot of good stuff for those areas," said LaTourette, of Madison, whose district includes seven northern townships in Trumbull County and all of Ashtabula County. "Being in the commission makes those counties eligible for a lot of money. It wouldn't be bad to be a part of it."
Congress established the commission, which includes 410 counties in 13 states including Ohio and Pennsylvania, in 1965 to support economic development in the Appalachian region.
Each year, Congress appropriates funds for highway projects and community and human development programs, which seek to create sustained local economic growth.
The commission distributed about $62 million annually in 2002 for 500 projects and in 2001 for 450 projects, said Louis Segesvary, commission spokesman.
The agency awards grants to be used as supplemental funding to help communities meet state matching dollars for projects that reduce school dropout rates, provide job training, build water and sewer systems, develop telecommunication networks, help start and expand businesses, and make health and dental care more accessible.
By law, half of all ARC funding must go to the 118 counties classified as distressed. The other half of the money goes to the remaining 292 counties in the region that stretches from New York to Mississippi.
The amounts for each county are determined by the 14-member commission, which includes the governors of the 13 Appalachian states and one federal government representative.
It requires an act of Congress to join the commission; four counties nationwide joined last year, Segesvary said. Columbiana County in Ohio, and Mercer and Lawrence counties in Pennsylvania are commission members.
The chairmen of the boards of commissioners in Mahoning and Trumbull counties are interested in LaTourette's proposal.
Mahoning Commissioner Ed Reese said he would have dismissed the idea out of hand just a year ago. But because of recent and projected financial challenges as well as changes to federal funding formulas and the splitting of Mahoning into two congressional districts, Reese is now interested in the idea.
"Appalachia gets more federal funding, and one of my major concerns has been how to compete against Appalachia. This could level the playing field," Reese said.
Trumbull Commissioner Michael O'Brien said he is willing to consider LaTourette's idea.
"I'm interested in receiving federal funds," he said. "I can't see anything negative about this."
Also, Youngstown Mayor George M. McKelvey said LaTourette's idea has great appeal, and he is planning to talk to mayors of cities in the commission to find out what it will take to join and the criteria for receiving funding through the program.
"The irony is that our weaknesses become our strengths; our poverty, our high unemployment, our crime, etc., etc.," McKelvey said. "Those become our strengths in applications for assistance. It's turning negatives into positives."
One concern for Reese is the "stigma" that could be attached to the county by being part of Appalachia.
There are no negatives to joining the commission, Segesvary said.
"The Appalachia stigma has diminished considerably over the years," he said. "Those kinds of stereotypes are obsolete. There is considerable poverty left in some areas, but Appalachia has made considerable strides."
Other area congressmen
LaTourette, R-14th, said he plans to seek the support of U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Niles, D-17th, who represents portions of Trumbull and Mahoning counties, for his proposal.
U.S. Rep. Ted Strickland of Lucasville, D-6th, said being a member of the commission has its benefits, but he wasn't willing to support LaTourette's proposal until he discusses it with Mahoning County officials. Strickland represents all or portions of 12 counties including Columbiana and Mahoning. The only county in his district not in the commission is Mahoning.
"I don't know how difficult it would be to add the counties to the commission," he said. "But I would want to be as helpful as possible if Mahoning officials are interested."
In 1977, then-Youngstown Mayor Jack C. Hunter spearheaded a plan to have Mahoning, Trumbull, Columbiana and Ashtabula counties join the commission. That effort failed, but Columbiana County joined the commission in 1990, and is among the 29 Ohio counties in it. Most of Pennsylvania is in the commission, as is all of West Virginia.