Oakhill will be an asset to the city and county, a commissioner says.
By PETER H. MILLIKEN
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- The race between Mahoning County Commissioner David Ludt, a Democrat who seeks re-election to a third term, and his write-in opponent, Richard Ouzounian, heated up Wednesday in a verbal sparring match.
Ouzounian, after Wednesday's commissioners meeting, said renewal of the county's half-percent sales tax next year is critical for the county's future and criticized Ludt for Ludt's nonsupport of the tax renewal when Ludt campaigned for and was initially elected commissioner in 1998.
Ouzounian said Ludt initially "ran against the sales tax. That has now caused the county to have financial difficulties ever since." The voters have alternately passed and rejected county sales tax renewals in recent years. The tax is "most desperately needed to keep the jail open," Ouzounian said.
But Ludt accused Ouzounian of distorting his record. Ludt said he opposed the sales tax in 1998 because revenue from it was not earmarked for economic development projects. He and the other commissioners then dedicated 3 million annually from the tax for such projects, Ludt said. Ludt said he has supported sales tax renewals ever since and fully supports next year's renewal effort.
Ouzounian also said the commissioners should have a public comment period on the design of renovations, before work begins on the part of the county's newly acquired Oakhill Renaissance Place, which will accommodate the Department of Job and Family Services. "Mahoning County residents are going to have to live with that design for, probably, decades," he said.
The county plans to move JFS from rented quarters at Garland Plaza, 709 N. Garland Ave., to Oakhill, 345 Oak Hill Ave. -- the former Forum Health Southside Medical Center. Ouzounian also said the county should have built a state-of-the-art government office building, rather than renovating a building at greater expense.
Ludt said there has already been plenty of opportunity for public comment on Oakhill; public opinion favors the Oakhill project; and using Oakhill is quicker and cheaper than building a new building. The Oakhill building is clean, well-maintained and "in excellent shape;" its parking deck is in good condition, and Oakhill offers room for expansion, he added.
"We've got people calling that want to move into that building," including expressions of interest from banks and food service operators, Ludt said. "It's going to be an asset to Mahoning County as well as the city of Youngstown," he said, adding that Oakhill will eventually house most county departments.
"The building commission has credibility, and so does the architect," Ludt said, noting that several commissioners are construction specialists. The county building commission selected Olsavsky-Jaminet on Monday as its preferred firm to design the JFS space at Oakhill. "It's premature to make an estimate on how much it's going to cost. We don't know. You're not going to know until you bid it out," Ludt said of Oakhill renovation costs.
During their meeting, commissioners approved a resolution supporting Boardman Township's application for a 65,000 Clean Ohio Conservation Fund grant for the township's acquisition of 7.8 acres of undeveloped land along Yellow Creek in the southeast corner of the township along Western Reserve Road.
RDW Co., a development company that proposes an adjacent condominium development in Poland Township, has offered to pay for construction of a hiking trail on the parcel the township wants to acquire, said Darren L. Crivelli, Boardman Township zoning inspector. "We would like to see this property preserved in its natural state, and the best way to do that is to purchase it," he told commissioners. The township would buy the 7.8 acres of woods, which includes substantial floodplain and wetlands areas, from RDW, he said.