Youngstown to move forward on hiring a firm for its planning efforts

By David Skolnick


City council will consider legislation Wednesday to authorize the hiring of a firm to provide planning services.

The ordinance would permit the board of control to advertise and enter into an agreement with the “best-qualified consultant for planning services.”

The proposal would authorize the board of control to spend up to $100,000 with an agency to handle that work.

But there is some confusion as to the focus of the firm.

The ordinance, sponsored by council’s community- development agency committee, states the work would be for “a downtown and major corridor plan.”

Councilwoman Janet Tarpley, D-6th, chairwoman of the CDA committee, said that would be the initial focus of the firm, which would at some future point do similar work for the city’s neighborhoods.

But Mayor Charles Sammarone said the company selected by the board of control, of which he is chairman, also would work on plans for the city’s neighborhoods.

The city has been without a planner since March 2009 when Anthony Kobak left after nine years on the job. That work has been largely ignored with those working in the zoning department and CDA doing what they can to fill the void.

There has been talk over the years about hiring a city planner, and money for the position was in the 2012 budget.

Wednesday’s legislation is the furthest the city has gone to replace Kobak.

“It’s a long-time coming,” Tarpley said.

The discussion has been whether to hire a city employee or a firm to handle the work.

Based on the advice of Scott Smith, the city’s federal Strong Cities, Strong Communities [SC2] fellow, the city will select a firm, Sammarone said.

“You’re better off with a consultant as you get more bang for your buck,” the mayor said. “If you have someone in-house, it’s a one-person department. If you hire a consultant, you get an entire firm.”

The city was among seven cities selected in 2011 by the federal government for the SC2 program, which is designed to give struggling cities the needed resources to spur economic growth and operational efficiency.

A $250,000 report from the PFM Group of the city’s operations last year includes more than 60 proposals to assist the city. The city has implemented about a half-dozen with success.

Also Wednesday, council will consider authorizing the board of control to sign a $62,000 contract, retroactive to Jan. 1, with the Warren-Youngstown Urban League to run its human relations commission, which investigates complaints about violations of employment and housing anti-discrimination and equal-opportunity laws.

The league has run the commission since 2006 with its $62,000 fee unchanged since 2010.

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