TRUMBULL COUNTY Communities study team approach
A series of meetings is planned to sort out ways to work together and become more efficient.
WARREN -- Warren and its surrounding communities are exploring how to work together on big-ticket items.
The effort, facilitated by the Regional Chamber, could lead to cooperative purchasing or sharing of items among Warren, Niles, Trumbull County and the townships of Bazetta, Champion, Howland and Warren.
Representatives hashed out several possibilities Monday during a session at the Sky Bank building downtown. Greg Sherlock, the chamber's vice president of governmental affairs, facilitated the meeting.
The communities are not discussing what many termed "the R word" or regionalization. This venture is more about working together, communicating and saving money by avoiding duplication of services.
The idea grew out of discussions among Warren Councilman Gary Fonce, D-at large, Trumbull Commissioner Daniel Polivka, and the chamber.
Polivka noted it seems that the only time such ventures are discussed among communities "is when dollars are tight."
No decisions were made Monday; there will be a series of meetings to sort out priorities. Among the issues and ideas to be discussed:
U Avoiding duplication of services such as health departments, dog wardens, engineering departments, purchasing departments, police and fire services, maintenance costs and 911 answering points.
U Fostering the sharing of resources, including such things as fire equipment (ladder trucks), heavy equipment (bulldozers and trailers), office space, buildings, land and water and sewer systems.
U Exploring cooperative purchases, including electricity and gas, vehicle fuel, vehicle leases and purchases, cellular phones, insurance coverage, road paving and road salt.
Also discussed was the need for joint efforts toward economic development and job creation; having land-use plans and sticking to their development restrictions; and advertising local entertainment events that are of interest or benefit to the entire region.
Fonce said government should function as a business. Businesses, he noted, reduce costs as revenue declines.
"This isn't to eliminate positions or take jobs away from the work force," but to make government run more efficiently, he said.
"The fact of the matter is, when you take $80,000 and divide it by five, it's a hell of a lot better looking for your citizens" than paying that amount all alone, all at once, Fonce added.
Michael Lastic, Niles councilman at large, said such approaches must be coupled with public education.
"When you educate them and you tell the public we're going to save money by this cooperative purchase, then they're going to say that's great," Lastic said. But the public has to be told up front that the equipment being shared might not be housed in their community. "Let them know, when we need this equipment, it's going to be there."
The group agreed that cooperative buying of insurance is one key issue to study. Health, life and liability coverage are major expenses, the participants noted.
"That's probably the No. 1 cost for all communities and why communities are broke. It's the health insurance," said Niles Mayor Ralph Infante, suggesting the possibility of pooling coverage.
Niles also had council President Robert Marino and Councilmen Frank Fuda and Stephen Papalas in attendance.
"There's strength in numbers," said Darlene St. George, Howland Township administrator.
Michael Piros, Bazetta Township trustee, said infrastructure -- water, sewer and roads -- is another key issue for all communities. Last month, Bazetta trustees invited Warren and other government representatives to discuss cooperating on water and sewer services for new housing and business expected in the township.
There also was some consensus that Trumbull County should address its 911 issues within its own borders, despite overtures from Youngstown Mayor George McKelvey to merge.
Warren Mayor Michael O'Brien noted that Warren's dispatching center is underused. Infante suggested four public safety answering points could handle the county if properly located, rather than the current seven.