MAHONING COUNTY Planning session will address development

The seminar is tentatively set for Mill Creek Park.
YOUNGSTOWN -- Mahoning County commissioners will have a brainstorming and strategic planning session later this summer to look for ways to continue cutting costs, consolidating services and to provide a stable general fund revenue stream.
Helping the commissioners at the session will be Sarah V. Lown, director of economic development, Eastgate Regional Council of Governments.
The seminar will be one day in August and the tentative site will be in Mill Creek Park. The exact date will be announced.
Lown met with commissioners and their special projects staff Tuesday to discuss how the session might be put together.
She presented the commissioners with three sample planning processes -- strategic planning, team building and reinventing government.
She said whichever one the commissioners choose, they should limit themselves to achieving their top two or three goals or priorities during the seminar. The seminar would be considered successful if commissioners could agree on one or two strategies they could successfully implement, she added.
Lown also suggested that commissioners limit their strategic planning to the departments over which they have control, for example facilities management, office of management and budget and microfilm department.
Big spenders
Commissioners also plan to discuss the two departments that eat up the largest share of the general fund -- the county jail and the courts.
Commissioner John A. McNally IV suggested top supervisors from those departments and some others be invited to the seminar to lend their expertise.
Annemarie DeAscentis from special projects told commissioners that if they take the initiative to plan now and have a planning process in place, "you have a base to work from instead of trying to plan in the crisis-management mode."
Suzanne Barbati, also from special projects, said she believes the morale of county employees is getting better, and it is wise to "set up a planning process now."
Commissioner Anthony Traficanti, commission board chairman, said the dilemma for him and other commissioners is how to effectively stabilize the general fund's No. 1 funding mechanism -- the half-percent sales tax.
That, he said, will be a key seminar discussion topic.
He was alluding to the fact that every five years, one of the county's two half-percent sales taxes comes up for renewal. If one of them is voted down -- as was done in 2004 -- commissioners have few revenue options available to allocate for general fund departments. The county's second five-year, half-percent tax expires in 2007.
Tax benefits
The two sales taxes bring in about $28 million a year, which is about half of the general fund's revenues.
"I really believe we should have a permanent sales tax," Traficanti said, adding that most of the state's counties do have a permanent tax. "How do we run a $300 million entity with only a $28 million revenue stream?"
He suggested another goal would be to look at the 2002 performance audit done by the Ohio Auditor's Office, take the top five suggestions made in that audit and work on getting some of those accomplished.
He said commissioners this year tried to accomplish one of those suggestions by asking all department heads and elected officeholders to have their employees pay at least 10 percent of their health insurance costs.
That will have to be negotiated for departments with union pacts, but commissioners have asked officeholders whose employees are nonunion to implement the 10 percent contribution.
Commissioners continue to look for ways to consolidate services, and Traficanti added the board has cut administrative salaries for department heads under their control by 25 percent to 35 percent. For example, the current human resources director and director of Job and Family Services are making less than their predecessors.

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