It’s just a matter of time before the health agencies in the city of Youngstown and Mahoning County become one. Consolidation of public services has been standard operating procedure for quite some time in many parts of the state and the country, but remains a rarity in the Mahoning Valley.
The public sector in the region is like a spoiled child, refusing to share. This refusal to change is costing the taxpayers a boatload of money. Public payrolls gobble up more than 80 percent of operating budgets.
Youngstown Mayor Charles Sammarone, a veteran of city government and a retired teacher in the Youngstown school system, has been advocating the consolidation of services with county government since he replaced Jay Williams in August 2011.
Sammarone succeeded in having the county’s building inspection office take over the city’s operation, but has had no success in merging Youngstown’s 911 emergency telephone service with Mahoning County’s.
As for his plans for the health agencies, the mayor has hit a roadblock. He received a letter from Patricia M. Sweeney, the county’s health commissioner, who all but dismissed the idea of consolidation.
Instead, Sweeney proposed that Youngstown contract with the county for the provision of health services.
But Sammarone isn’t buying the idea that contracting “may be far less stressful and perhaps more efficient when current needs exist.”
Less stressful for whom? The feelings of public employees must be secondary to what’s in the best interest of the taxpayers. That means making the most efficient use of public agencies and eliminating duplication of services to save money.
The mayor wants the county commissioners to become involved in the consolidation talks. We believe that’s a reasonable expectation.
But we would go a step further and urge the commissioners and the township trustees who serve on the county health board to raise this issue with Randy Cole, president of the State Controlling Board and policy adviser, who will be the guest speaker Aug. 22 at the Mahoning County Township Association’s annual picnic in Canfield.
Cole will discuss the state’s biennium budget and the cuts to the Local Government Fund.
Gov. John Kasich has made it clear that local public entities must change the way they operate and has advocated the consolidation of services, centralized purchasing and any other initiatives to save tax dollars.
There are reports out of Columbus that the governor wants to reduce the number of health districts in the state. If Kasich wins re-election next year and decides to pursue reduction, Mahoning County could find itself in a district with Portage County.
Interestingly, Sweeney, in her letter to Sammarone, had this observation:
“Public health needs cross geo-political boundaries. I believe that this is the time for our Valley to have a single health agency sharing our collective resources and expertise to meet all of the needs of all of the people in the most efficient manner possible. We can figure out how to do this now, as a community, or we can wait and have the state do it for us. I prefer the prior option.”
Why then, would she and the county health district board, turn down the mayor’s proposal for consolidation?
Local officials know that this is a workable solution because they have talked to officials in Akron and Summit County, where a merger has taken place — successfully.