Mayor aims for action on health districts

By David Skolnick


Mayor Charles Sammarone wants a decision by the middle of next month from Mahoning County on whether it’s still interested in merging the city and county health districts.

“We don’t want to keep spinning our wheels; we want an answer,” Sammarone said Friday.

Officials with the Mahoning County District Board of Health are supposed to meet Feb. 16 to discuss the issue.

Sammarone, who supports a merger, said he wants an answer in writing from the board a few days after its meeting.

“If they agree, we’ll move forward and a time line would be the next step,” he said. “It will save money. We’re interested. If they’re not, then we’re done and we’ll move along.”

Sammarone said the merger idea has been kicked around since 1975. He has a copy of an April 1, 1975, letter from the Youngstown city clerk to Mahoning County commissioners on his desk asking to discuss a consolidation of the two health districts.

Officials from the city and county have met in recent weeks to discuss the subject and its impact on staff and budgets, said Matthew Stefanak, county health commissioner.

The county board will decide if it will proceed with consolidation talks at that meeting next month.

“We’re putting together information,” Stefanak said. “Our discussions have been productive.”

The county board took over public health duties for Campbell in 2003 and for Struthers in 2009.

For Youngstown to merge with the county, a charter amendment would have to be approved by city voters. If a decision to merge is made, that amendment could be on the November ballot.

Sammarone and Stefanak both pointed to Summit County, Akron and Barberton health districts as an example of a successful merger. That was done in January 2011.

Though Sammarone said it’s too early to say how much money would be saved by a merger, he said it would definitely reduce costs for both entities.

“The savings is mostly at the top as you’d only need one health commissioner, one administrator, one AIDS coordinator,” he said. “We’d also save on rent. It’s a cost savings. It’s simple. Bring the sides together and save money.”

Sammarone also said he’ll send a letter Monday to county commissioners asking them to consider merging the city and county emergency 911 centers, another topic that’s been discussed for years with no action taken.

“You work together, and it’s cost-effective,” Sammarone said. “If they want to do it, we’ll move ahead. But it’s stalled before.”

John McNally IV, chairman of the board of county commissioners, said he’s interested in discussing a merger on not only boards of health — though he pointed out that’s a decision for the county health board’s district advisory council — and 911 services, but also combining the city building department and county building inspection office.

“There are financial benefits to combining services,” McNally said. “There’s a great urgency in not only Northeast Ohio but the state to consolidate services and offices when opportunities present themselves. We need to get serious about these efforts.”

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