Officials tout need for regionalization
By DENISE DICK
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
LIBERTY -- Change is never easy, particularly for government, but it's necessary to continue to provide services in an evolving economy.
That was a common theme voiced today from speakers at a regionalization summit sponsored by the Regional Chamber at the Holiday Inn MetroPlex.
Nearly 100 state, county, municipal and township officials from Mahoning and Trumbull counties attended.
Greg Sherlock, chamber vice president of government affairs, said the chamber hopes the session is the first of many gatherings to discuss regionalization.
State Rep. Jon Husted of Kettering, R-37th, the speaker of the house, told attendees that because of changes at both the state and federal levels in terms of money available, local governments have no choice but to work together regionally.
Montgomery County, where Husted lives, is working to consolidate its 911 services. If accomplished, it's expected to save 5 million per year, he said.
But changes mean that some entities may have to give up something they've always had, Husted said
"We have to stop doing things the way we've always done them," the house speaker said.
He urged attendees to approach regionalization slowly, at first tacking one or two issues they're confident can be accomplished.
"Success breeds success, and failure breeds failure," Husted said.
Youngstown Mayor Jay Williams has been a proponent of the regional approach to issues.
His reasons: "Does anyone else have a better idea?"
One way he's broaching regionalization is through the city's water system. The city has hired a firm to study the viability of using the city's water and sewer system to spur economic development in the Mahoning Valley, Williams said.
"Is the city of Youngstown intent on annexation?" Williams asked. "The answer is absolutely not."
If the study determines it is viable to use the water system as an economic development tool, Williams said there are five options. He said the city can do the following in order of least to most desirable.
*Enter into protracted legal battles to try to annex contiguous townships.
*Stop providing water service to areas outside of its boundaries.
*Continue to provide water at a higher cost to noncity customers.
*Negotiate agreements for low cost, shared revenue and broaden the economic base for the valley.
Williams was referring to joint economic development districts, or JEDDs.
JEDDs allow cities to provide economic incentives to businesses in townships that those communities can't, such as water. In exchange, the city is permitted to impose its income tax, to be shared with the townships, on people who work within a JEDD.
JEDDs would preserve the political autonomy as well as the individual character of the communities involved, Williams said.
Different entities cooperating in endeavors such as JEDDs also would better the Valley's ability to compete in a global economy, he said.
Refusal by representatives from surrounding communities to participate in JEDD discussions would "leave us to pursue the less desirable options," the mayor said.
Warren Mayor Michael J. O'Brien agreed that regionalization is necessary.
"The world has changed, and government has to change with it," O'Brien said.
Attendees at the summit also heard a presentation from William Shaw of John D. Preuer & amp; Associates Inc. of Mentor about regionalizing safety services.
A consortium of Trumbull County fire departments is working with the company as they look to possibly share services to save money.
Shaw suggested that if communities want to pursue sharing services, they initially approach it by blending services rather than fully merging.
"You may end up in a fire district, but we don't recommend that's where you start," he said.