Mahoning’s shared-service plan praised by state leader
By Ashley Luthern
and David Skolnick
A $100,000 feasibility study of a Mahoning Countywide computer network exemplifies the importance and success of shared services, said the president of the state controlling board.
“Shared services are not the holy grail, but are an important piece of the puzzle” of running government efficiently, said Randy Cole, controlling board president as well as a policy adviser to Gov. John Kasich and Ohio’s point man on shared services.
Cole was in Boardman on Thursday to discuss government consolidation and shared services. He also met with The Vindicator editorial board.
Consolidation and sharing services — such as emergency 911 centers, health districts, heavy machinery, fire departments and building departments — are not mandated by the state with success “coming down to people making the choice,” Cole said during his meeting with the newspaper’s editorial board. “Ego and turf come into play. You have to check your ego at the door.”
The controlling board approves loans and grants made through the Ohio Department of Development, including the recent $100,000 awarded to the Mahoning County Area Cooperative Computerized Educational Support System. ACCESS provides technology services, such as Internet and payroll systems, to public schools in Mahoning County. John LaPlante, ACCESS executive director, said the goal is to create the Mahoning County Regional Shared Service System, which would use a shared fiber-optic network to connect project participants and develop a menu of services, ranging from file-server storage to Geographic Information System (GIS) to law-enforcement services.
The feasibility study of the project, funded by the grant, will create a detailed list of expected cost savings, and 16 Mahoning County entities in addition to ACCESS have expressed interest, LaPlante said.
The shared fiber-optic network entails connecting the ACCESS and the Mahoning/Youngstown Regional Information System (MYRIS) networks into a single shared information system.
Proponents of the shared network said it would cut costs by eliminating redundancies of each local government maintaining its own file server, for example, and could provide additional services that smaller communities couldn’t afford on their own.
County Auditor Michael Sciortino said, for example, his office is getting an upgrade in GIS capabilities, which could be shared through the network and be used by local zoning offices.
The next step in the process is to bring all 16 entities involved together this month, LaPlante said.
All the entities “get a seat at the table to decide how to move forward. We haven’t hired a consultant yet because we want everyone’s input. We’ll start the study in September,” he said.
Other communities need to consider consolidation and shared services, Cole said.
“If the right incentives are there, and we can show that it’s cost-efficient, people will change,” he said. “If you force it, those are the ones who complain the most.”
Ohio has 3,962 political entities and about 20,000 elected officials.
“One out of every 500 Ohioans holds an elected office,” he said. “It doesn’t make sense.”