A city that’s spent $1,117,000 on studies since 2005 — with recommendations that mostly haven’t been implemented — is teaming with Youngstown State University to apply for $250,000 in federal funding for yet another study.
The irony of the timing — The Vindicator published an article Sunday on the Youngstown studies three days before the city council will consider an ordinance to apply for funding for a new economic plan — wasn’t lost on Ronald Chordas, executive director of YSU’s Center for Urban and Regional Studies.
The center would handle YSU’s part of the study.
When asked about the benefits of another study, contingent on the U.S. Economic Development Administration approving the city-YSU proposal, Chordas said, “Heck if I know.”
A problem with planning is there is federal money available for studies, but often there isn’t any financial assistance to implement the recommendations, he said.
“The federal government says there will be follow-up money, but who knows?” Chordas said of the EDA study.
“You need a plan before you can pursue money for implementation.”
Calling himself “cynical,” Chordas said, “I’d much rather see the money go to implementation, but you follow the trail of money.”
Implementing recommendations in studies over the years hasn’t been Youngstown’s forte.
The internationally- heralded Youngstown 2010 Citywide Plan, finalized in 2005 at a cost of $300,000 to the city, has been abandoned by Mayor Charles Sammarone, who never supported the study’s premise of embracing the downsizing of the city.
Some of the 2010 plan’s key recommendations were implemented including revitalizing downtown and trying to tie it to YSU, and focusing on the demolition of vacant houses in neighborhoods.
But most of the recommendations in the study, organized with the help of YSU’s Center for Urban and Regional Studies, went nowhere.
“We take on too many things [in the city] and don’t focus well enough,” Chordas said.
“We don’t have the capacity to do everything. Pick something and do that.”
Without the $250,000 from the federal government, this study won’t happen, said DeMaine Kitchen, the mayor’s chief of staff/secretary.
The city and YSU need to provide $75,000, a 30-percent share, if it receives the grant.
But that share will come in $75,000 worth of in-kind work from city and YSU employees, Kitchen said.
The proposed economic strategic plan would “examine current economic activity, inventory assets, analyze potential industry clusters, analyze effectiveness of current incentives, identify emerging opportunities for the area, and develop a marketing plan accordingly for the area,” according to the ordinance, sponsored by Sammarone, in front of council on Wednesday.
“It’s more of a marketing plan,” Kitchen said.
“It looks at our competitive advantages, including our workforce and location, and market it to attract business. It’s not a planning grant. It will tie into certain plans we’ve had done. It’s not a stand-alone planning study.”
When asked about those who are skeptical about the various plans by the city that don’t lead to much, Kitchen said, “This one is a supplement to the other studies. Yes, there’s been a lack of implementation. This is something to be implemented over the long term.”
The proposal must be submitted to the EDA by June 13, and Chordas said an announcement is expected no later than September.
Since 2005, Youngstown spent $1,117,000 — all funded with city tax dollars save for $300,000, which was funded by state or federal tax dollars except $50,000 from a local foundation — on five key studies and an updated zoning code.
The zoning code was one of the recommendations of the Youngstown 2010 plan.
Among the plans are a pair of studies, finished in 2008 and 2010 at a combined cost of $267,000, that called for Youngstown imposing a 2 percent to 2.25 percent income tax on those who work in Austintown and Boardman, and receive water, and expanding the city’s water system in Campbell and Struthers.
None of that ever happened.
Also, Sammarone and city council agreed a few weeks ago to spend up to $200,000 annually to hire a firm to handle city planning including what needs to be done downtown, the major corridors and in the neighborhoods — all focuses of the 2010 plan.