By Ed Runyan
A recently unveiled proposal to borrow money to pay for construction of a one-stop facility to consolidate city offices has jumped to the top of topics on the minds of Warren’s two mayoral candidates.
Warren Safety-Service Director Doug Franklin said he and Mayor Michael O’Brien have narrowed the focus to two locations — one on High Street and one on Franklin Street — where a services building would be constructed.
The idea behind a one-stop facility is that it would enable people to transact business for several departments in one place, such as pay income taxes or the water bill.
The city would make use of low interest rates, the city’s improved bond rating and its relatively small amount of debt to issue bonds for the $7 million facility.
Franklin and his opponent in the May Democratic primary, United Auto Workers Local 1112 president Jim Graham, squared off in a debate Monday night in Warren, but earlier Monday they met with the editors of The Vindicator to discuss some of the same issues.
Franklin said the new building would house departments that are now spread throughout the city including water, health, finance, building inspection, community development and engineering.
The construction also would allow the city and Trumbull County to share a facility, because the county needs space for its county planning commission, Franklin said.
“We can rearrange our work processes to increase our efficiency,” Franklin said of the one-stop, adding that a new building also would reduce utility costs.
The mayor’s and service director’s offices would remain in the historic Perkins mansion on Mahoning Avenue.
Paul Heltzel, Trumbull County commissioner, said county commissioners will need to move the planning commission and building-inspection department at some point because of the high cost of operating the building they use now on North Park Avenue. The commissioners have looked at existing buildings but are open to new construction if the price to the county is right.
Graham, meanwhile, says he questions why O’Brien and Franklin chose now — “one month before the election” — to unveil their one-stop proposal when Auditor David Griffing told city officials that it was time to refinance the city’s debt in September.
“What’s the sense of spending $7 million and building a Taj Mahal in the city of Warren when the roads are so bad,” Graham said.
Graham said he also thinks it would be “prudent” to let the new mayor decide on whether to go into that kind of debt rather than for O’Brien to make such a decision in the months before he leaves office.
Graham said he does agree that it would be good to work with the county to share such a building.
Graham has been critical of the condition of the city under O’Brien, pointing to drug dealing, prostitution and blight. Graham says Ohio law gives so much responsibility to the safety-service director, he could be called the “CEO of the city.”
Franklin, who has been safety-service director under O’Brien for 71/2 years, said the administration has done “pretty well under the circumstances” — such as losing millions of income tax dollars per year through the closing of the Delphi Packard plants on Dana Street.
The safety-service director also is “pretty much hired help” for the mayor and doesn’t make most of the key decisions, Franklin said.