State funding for demolition leaves the area disappointed

2When Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine made that statement in February during a visit to Youngstown, local officials had visions of dollars from Columbus pouring into the Mahoning Valley to make a major dent in the demolition program. DeWine noted that there are at least 7,500 vacant homes in the tri-county area that need to be torn down, including 4,500 in Youngstown and 2,500 in Warren.

It normally costs between $2,500 and $4,000 to demolish a house, which means the tab would be at least $18.75 million.

But with the attorney general touting the Moving Ohio Forward Grant Program — it has $75 million for a statewide demolition campaign — and contending that the issue of local matching money is not a deal-breaker, expectations were justifiably high that the Valley would finally be getting its fair share from the state.

However, when the projected funding for each county was revealed, the reaction from Youngstown Mayor Charles Sammarone reflected the thinking of just about every Valley resident who believes we’ve been shortchanged by Columbus for far too long:

“That’s all?” Sammarone asked, when informed that Mahoning County is eligible to receive $1.53 million.

Trumbull County, which had made a pitch for $6 million, will get $1.27 million, while Columbiana County is in line for $576,119.

The mayor wasn’t alone in his reaction.

The Rev. Gregory Maturi, pastor of St. Dominic Church on the city’s South Side, also was taken aback by the projected funding for Mahoning County. Father Maturi launched “Operation Redemption” in 2010 to accomplish the demolition of 27 vacant structures around the church. The operation was triggered by the murders in 2010 of two of his parishioners, Angeline Fimognari and Thomas Repchic.

Attorney General DeWine met with the priest, city officials and members of the criminal justice establishment, including law enforcement, to talk about the violence that has turned the South Side into a veritable war zone.

Dilapidated homes are used by criminals for drug deals and other gang activity, accelerating neighborhood deterioration.

Treasurer’s commitment

Although Mahoning County Treasurer Dan Yemma, who will oversee the demolition money from the state, has pledged that most of the allocation will go the city of Youngstown because Mayor Sammarone has pledged a $1 million match, it still is a pittance.

DeWine must know that the money for the Mahoning Valley will barely make a dent in the campaign to tear down vacant homes.

The dollars coming from the state is part of the $335 million Ohio is receiving from a $25 billion national mortgage settlement with the country’s five largest mortgage companies over foreclosure abuses, fraud and improper practices.

The attorney general’s office has control of $97 million. Of that, $75 million has been set aside for demolition. The funds are being allocated to the counties on the basis of the number of foreclosures filed.

We would urge Attorney General DeWine, the state’s top lawyer, to also take into consideration the per capita crime rate, especially homicides, that contribute to the destruction of a community.

Last week, Youngstown recorded its 12th homicide this year, compared with four over the same period in 2011.

The state-financed demolition program needs to be re-examined with an eye to funneling more money into the Valley.

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