Tablack begins double duty next week

It was Tablack's idea to tie future pay raises for deputies to the county sales tax.
YOUNGSTOWN -- As Mahoning County auditor for nearly 19 years, George J. Tablack's ideas on good government and fiscal management were passed along as an elected official to other officeholders, namely county commissioners.
Now that he'll work for commissioners as the county's new administrator, beginning Monday, Tablack is poised to make his ideas reality.
"George is a guy who likes to put his head under the hood, not drive the car in the parade," said Commissioner Anthony Traficanti, who has been the county's acting administrator since February 2005.
Tablack will do double duty as administrator and budget director, the job to which he was appointed last November. His current salary of $65,000 remains unchanged while commissioners confer with the county prosecutor's office on an employment agreement that defines his pay and duties, Commissioner John McNally IV said.
Tablack already has tinkered with the county's engine by participating in recent contract negotiations with sheriff's department employees. Commissioners ratified a new three-year contract Thursday, the same day they voted unanimously to hire Tablack.
Employees will receive 3 percent pay raises this year, retroactive to Jan. 1. It's their first pay raise in three years, Sheriff Randall Wellington said.
Negotiations on future wage increases may be reopened a year from now, and those talks will be tied to the performance of the county's sales tax issues, Tablack told commissioners.
In explaining the link, Tablack said 60 percent of the county's general fund revenue is derived from sales tax. If the jail inmate population increases because of criminal justice working group initiatives -- namely, the boarding of federal detainees for money to fully open the jail -- more deputies will need to be hired. The sheriff's department would then comprise 60 percent of all wages that are drawn from the county's general fund, he said.
Staffing levels in the jail must be maintained because of a successful lawsuit by inmates over conditions, so it's no longer possible to lay off some deputies in order to give cost-of-living adjustments to others, Tablack said.
As for other contract details, deputies will join the ranks of those county employees who pay 10 percent of their health insurance premiums, with no dollar cap on the amount, said Deputy Glenn Kountz, president of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 141. The union represents about 217 deputies, ranking officers and civilians. Members ratified the contract May 3.
Some deputies agreed to give up longevity pay. They had received annual payments of $100 for every year on the job. The union hopes longevity pay will be converted to wages down the road, Kountz said.
The union also agreed to a three-year probationary period for new hires, which Tablack called "unprecedented" but necessary to evaluate how those employees are adapting to their responsibilities.
After the commissioners' meeting, Tablack said his first priority is to improve the way that information gets to commissioners and other elected officials. He'll recommend the placement of comment cards in every county office to get public feedback on service. It's one way of measuring county government's performance that he believes will lead to consensus building among officeholders, he said.
Tablack estimates that sales tax repeals in the last 10 years have cost the county about $45 million in revenue. That begs the questions "What caused the loss of $45 million and how do you repair that trust?" he said.
McNally thanked Traficanti and Commissioner David Ludt for conducting a search for an administrator. Tablack was hired as budget director after commissioners had decided not to fill the job. McNally voted against Tablack's hiring then in protest of the process. Thursday, he voted for Tablack as administrator.
"My concern wasn't with George Tablack's qualifications," McNally said, saying his background is "more than sufficient" for the job.
Tablack said he was "relieved" by the commissioners' unanimous vote.

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