Government in Mahoning County will continue to confront budgetary challenges even if voters renew a half-percent sales tax on May 4. Indeed, the county could well be headed for state mandated fiscal emergency if residents say “no.”
The future is uncertain at best, which is why this is not the time to replace a three-term commissioner with a two-term Youngstown City Council member.
Commissioner David Ludt is being challenged by Councilwoman Carol Rimedio-Righetti for the Democratic Party nomination in next month’s primary. Incumbency should have its advantages this year because Ludt offers experience, knowledge and foresight.
While Rimedio-Righetti, who retired from the board of elections after many years, is sincere about wanting to serve the residents of Mahoning County, her timing is bad. At any other period, her candidacy could be viewed in the context of change being a good thing. But not now.
Mahoning County government has experienced 19 months of revenue decline, which is reflected in the fact that this year’s general fund budget approved recently by the commissioners is more than $9.3 million less than what was spent in 2009.
Thus, the $51.7 million spending blueprint represents heavy cuts in the budgets of some departments.
For Ludt, who is on the ballot this year, such a move is politically risky. Yet, he did not shy away from joining his colleagues, Anthony Traficanti and John McNally, in doing what was necessary to produce a balanced spending plan.
It is instructive that last year’s expenditures were more than $6.4 million less than what was spent in 2008.
While Rimedio-Righetti says she supports the renewal of the sales tax and believes the county would be hard-pressed to operate without it, she lacks the kind of knowledge about the budget that comes with being directly involved with it for 12 years.
If there is one issue that separates the incumbent from the challenger, it is the relocation of the Job and Family Services agency from the Garland Plaza on the East Side to Oakhill Renaissance Place, formerly Southside Medical Center on Oakhill Avenue.
While Rimedio-Righetti agrees that the JFS move was necessary, given the decrepit condition of the Garland Plaza space, she would not have supported the move to Oakhill Renaissance.
She told The Vindicator’s editorial board that some other building should have been identified because she worries that the former Southside hospital is a money drain.
Ludt, on the other hand, joined Traficanti in strongly supporting the county’s purchase of Oakhill Renaissance and its restoration into a government center. Given the various government agencies and offices now in the building, it is clear that the two commissioners made the right decision. Commissioner McNally voted against the purchase.
We strongly supported turning Renaissance Place into a government center not only because it made economic sense, but because the alternative would have been a boarded up complex of buildings in the heart of the central business district.
The winner of the Democratic primary will face Republican Don Manning in the November general election.
The Vindicator endorses Ludt for the Democratic nomination.