The $5 million Youngstown Mayor George M. McKelvey is dangling in front of Mahoning or Trumbull County commissioners to persuade them to take over the city's 911 emergency system was bound to grab headlines -- and it did. With both county governments struggling to balance their budgets, McKelvey has made them an offer they would be hard-pressed to ignore.
The mayor, who is in his last year of his second term in office, is right: this is an opportunity for "serious consolidation negotiations."
Consolidation. It's a word that has been on the lips of taxpayers and local government officials for quite some time, but it has yet to be put to the test in a significant way. That's because parochialism and the desire to protect one's public job until the lucrative public pension kicks in run deep in the Mahoning Valley.
Backs against the wall
However, local governments may be forced to embrace cost-saving measures because of their financial woes -- caused largely by taxpayers saying with greater intensity, "Enough's enough." Whether you agree or disagree with that position, the fact remains that had government shown an inclination to change its spending ways -- most of the general fund revenue, for example, goes for employee salaries and benefits -- the citizenry would have been more inclined to take seriously real fiscal emergencies.
We have long urged local governments to identify services that are duplicated and to find solutions to this obvious waste of public dollars. For instance, we have been at the forefront of calling for the creation of a metropolitan court system in Mahoning County that would replace all the courts below the Common Pleas level, but our appeals have fallen on deaf ears.
Thus, when McKelvey points out that Youngstown's 911 center is located just 200 yards away from Mahoning County's 911 center, the immediate reaction is, "Why?"
That question should be at the heart of the discussion officials from Youngstown and Mahoning and Trumbull counties will be having shortly with regard to the mayor's proposal. Indeed, the meeting should not just focus on 911, but should be seen as a chance to begin serious discussions about other cost-saving measures.
Girard and Liberty
That is what Girard Mayor James Melfi, whose city is under state mandated fiscal emergency, and Liberty Township Administrator Patrick J. Ungaro have been doing for about a year, since an initial meeting in March 2004 between Melfi and Trustee Jack Simon prompted the creation of a four-person committee to deal with the consolidation issue.
Melfi said last week he is still committed to turning over dispatching responsibilities to Liberty, but he must first persuade some members of city council. The mayor pointed out that it now costs the city $225,000 to operate 911, and that Liberty would be willing to perform the service for $80,000. The three full-time dispatchers would not necessarily lose their jobs because there could be positions available in non-general fund departments. The fourth dispatching slot is filled by a police captain or patrolman, who would be returned to the streets.
There have been too many missed opportunities for consolidation of government services in the Mahoning Valley, much to the chagrin of the taxpayers. The longer elected officials cling to the status quo, the harder it will be for them to persuade voters to approve tax renewals, let alone increases.