The candidates differ on the role that George Tablack plays in government.
By DEBORA SHAULIS
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Improving county jail operations leads the laundry list of campaign issues for incumbent Mahoning County Commissioner David Ludt and challenger George M. McKelvey in May's Democratic primary.
Ludt, who is running for his third term as commissioner, said he'll work with the federal judge who has overseen jail operations for the last year.
U.S. District Judge David D. Dowd Jr. declared the overcrowded, understaffed facility to be unconstitutional, based on a successful lawsuit by inmates. Commissioners are looking at the county's funds in order to make improvements to the jail's heating, air conditioning and hot water systems, Ludt said.
McKelvey, former Youngstown mayor, wants to know why commissioners asked the city for $270,000 to reopen a closed pod at the jail late last year when they uncovered nearly $10 million in county funds.
"That, of course, speaks to questionable fiscal management," said McKelvey, adding that some of the extra money should have gone to the sheriff to keep inmates in jail. Some offenders have been temporarily released for lack of space.
Ludt disagrees with McKelvey's opinion that he and Commissioner Anthony Traficanti are the puppets of county budget director George J. Tablack. Tablack had resigned as county auditor last July to take a job in Palm Beach County, Fla., but returned in December.
"Do I as a taxpayer approve of someone behind the curtain pulling the strings? No," McKelvey recently told The Vindicator's editorial writers. "If George Tablack wanted to be a commissioner, he should have run for commissioner. If George Tablack says jump, [Traficanti] and [Ludt] say 'How high?' George must understand his role as an employee of the Mahoning County commissioners. If he doesn't, there isn't room for him."
"I brought [Tablack] back for his talent in financing," Ludt said. He credits Tablack with persuading the county budget commission to increase the 2006 certificate of revenues, which was estimated at $42 million but certified at $52 million after Tablack became involved.
"I think he's the best when it comes to numbers," Ludt said.
McKelvey said he expects Ludt to give Tablack a $35,000 pay raise and make him county administrator if he wins the primary. McKelvey, Tablack and 12 other people recently applied to be administrator.
McKelvey wants the job, even if he is elected commissioner. "It's not a political ploy. I come more prepared to be county administrator than Anthony Traficanti did coming out of Jim Traficant's barn," he said. Traficanti has been acting county administrator since February 2005.
Asked about a permanent county sales tax, McKelvey said he supports the idea because it makes sense. He didn't know what the amount of permanent tax should be.
Ludt also would support a permanent sales tax "if it's the right thing to do," he said. He believes the previous board of commissioners should have imposed a 0.5 percent sales tax for one year then sought voter approval of the issue.
Had the tax not expired at the end of 2004, costing the county about $12 million in revenue, the county jail wouldn't be under the federal judge's control, he said.
Ludt counts among his accomplishments a streamlined county government and recent water and bridge projects that are important to local infrastructure. He pointed to the installation of water and sewer lines near Lake Milton as a boost to the community.
Ludt would explore creation of a countywide water district to increase the customer base of Mahoning Valley Sanitary District, he said.
McKelvey touts his experience in financial management and said he's proud that Youngstown had a multimillion-dollar surplus when he left office last December. The city had a $12 million deficit when he was elected, he noted.
The third county commissioner, John McNally IV, was city law director while McKelvey was mayor. McNally isn't involved in McKelvey's campaign, but they "have similar philosophies. He thinks like I do and I think like he does," McKelvey said. "A McKelvey-McNally two-vote is better than a Ludt-Traficanti two-vote."
Both candidates also support the relocation of county Job and Family Services offices from a McGuffey Road plaza to the former Forum Health Southside Medical Center on Oak Hill Avenue.