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Building department hiring wrong move in Youngstown

Published: Thu, December 27, 2012 @ 12:00 a.m.

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.


1NoBS(1963 comments)posted 1 year, 10 months ago

Another anti-government-worker piece by the Vindy. And the same old misinformed, slanted information. Ho hum. "They're like a leech." "Salaries make up 80% of expenses." And so on. But let's look at that last one. Yes, most of the government's expenditures is wages. Why? Because what the government provides - services - requires people. There are no warehouses full of raw materials, no factories, no herd of salespeople working for commission, no advertising, and so on. That's why the government can't be run like a business. It's not a business. The goal is not to make a profit - its to break even. Harping on spending "80%" of their money on wages is disingenuous at best. What else should they spend their money on?

It takes people to provide the services the government provides in exchange for our tax dollars. This editorial admits it takes four people to run the building department. There is currently one person there. Let's eliminate 3 out of 4 jobs at the Vindicator, or anywhere, and see how things run. Slashing personnel "to save money" can only go so far before it becomes counterproductive. The Vindy acts like staffing is still at 1966 levels. The truth is, the dead wood was cleared out long ago, and more losses of jobs is having a detrimental effect on the functioning of the government we pay for. Of course, that leads to more complaints about those "do-nothings slopping at the public trough" while the paperwork piles up. What this kind of thinking seems to desire is a platoon of people who will do a professional level job, but work for free, and yet still have enough discretionary income that they can afford to keep the valley afloat.

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2TB(1167 comments)posted 1 year, 10 months ago

Well said nobs

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3AnotherAverageCitizen(1175 comments)posted 1 year, 10 months ago

The last retail store I worked at said its biggest expense is personnel.

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4johnyoung(241 comments)posted 1 year, 10 months ago

This Vindicator editorial is one more in the long line of ridiculous diatribes expressly intended simply to incite readers and increase readership, and not to affect better government services.

Youngstown's decision to combine building departments functions with Mahoning County should be made based on two factors. First, can the public be adequately served? And second, can overall costs be reduced as compared to maintaining two stand-alone building departments? The first requires an assessment of activities of both departments and a determination of how many employees are required to provide adequate levels of service through one department. The second requires negotiations between the city and county to determine an agreeable cost that the county will charge the city for assuming administration of the city building department activities.

From what I have read, neither of these determinants have yet been fully analyzed. How then, is it that the Vindicator editors seem to have all the answers? They seems to believe that the only function of building departments everywhere is to conduct inspections, which the continually mis-characterize as "housing inspections". If they had taken the time and interest to become even mildly informed, they would realize that many more functions are involved, such as plan review and interaction with other safety-service agencies on the local and state levels.

Mr. Sammarone is correct to delay action on this issue until all analysis has been completed and all conditions considered. Through an oversimplified assessment, the Vindicator once again is acting counter to the public good.

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5georges(1 comment)posted 1 year, 10 months ago

$60 per inspection is ridiculously cheap, try $75-90. No one, not even the city should get a free inspection. Shoddy work requires multiple inspections, so the city is penalized. Tell the building official to require plans for everything. A building department can be self sustaining, and maybe even generate revenue if you let the department charge for everything they do, instead of giving it away.
An available building department, that keeps construction projects moving along, is what most builders want, not cheap inspections.

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