Building department hiring wrong move in Youngstown

We were on the verge of giving Youngstown Mayor Charles Sammarone a round of applause for continuing his push for consolidation of services with Mahoning County when we read that he had slowed his plans for the building department.

That’s unfortunate. As has been shown time and time again, government is like a leech — once it starts sucking public dollars, it doesn’t stop. It just keeps going after more.

Sammarone should also disabuse himself of the notion that adding staff to any department can be cost effective. The reality is that more than 80 percent of government’s operating budget goes for salaries and benefits, meaning that additions to the payroll will be long-term financial propositions for the city.

In the year and four months Sammarone has been mayor, cutting the cost of city government has been a priority. His pursuit of consolidation of services with the county has drawn strong support from residents and others who have long advocated such cooperation.

We praised the mayor when he entered into an agreement with commissioners for housing inspections, which began in March.

The county charges the city $60 for each inspection, rather than the $100 that it has initially quoted, because Sammarone had said that phase two of the consolidation would be a complete transfer of the building department’s responsibilities.

There currently is only one person in the department, Brenda Williams, the chief building official. Williams earns $72,563.66 even though the mayor has said that it is an unworkable arrangement. For the building department to operate at an optimal level, three more employees are needed.

Early last week, Sammarone noted that it would cost about $400,000 for the department to be efficient and effective, but there isn’t enough money being generated through building permits to cover the additional cost.

But just two days after he let it be known that a transfer of responsibilities to the county was in the works, the mayor asked city council to postpone action on an ordinance to disband the building department.

He is now evaluating the financial ramifications of hiring more people — he said the cost would be between $450,000 and $500,000 — by increasing the building permit fees. The mayor is also looking at City Hall’s practice of granting fee waivers to some developers. He said only nonprofits would not have to pay the fees.

Weigh the benefits

While we believe that all options should be explored, we urge Sammarone to weigh the benefits of having a fully staffed building department against the benefits of turning the duties over to the county.

From where we sit, any reduction in the cost of city government is a good thing, considering that the population is declining, the tax base is stagnant and the demands on the treasury for such priorities as crime-fighting and housing demolition are unending.

Youngstown government’s economic future is challenging, at best, which is why spending priorities must be established.

A building department is not a priority when all the services it renders can be provided at lower cost by the county.

The mayor and council must recognize that the days when government was a source of employment are long gone.

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