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Austintown, Boardman, Canfield pave way for shared innovation



Published: Fri, May 31, 2013 @ 12:00 a.m.

A joint road-paving project planned among Austintown, Boardman and Canfield townships provides a promising example of good government in action in the Mahoning Valley.

We commend officials of the three townships for their innovative plan and encourage local government and school district officials throughout the Mahoning Valley to follow their example of consolidating duplicative services.

Michael Dockry, Austintown Township administrator, told trustees this week that the decision to establish a joint venture comes from local-government efforts to do more with less.

The plan involves putting the three townships’ paving budgets into one collective pot of about $1.2 million.

“It’s going to increase the volume that the vendors will be looking at bidding,” Dockry said. “Because of that volume, we’re all three hoping that we’ll get a lower unit bid than either one of us could.”

Marie Cartwright, Canfield Township trustee, said the plan not only will save taxpayers money, but it will allow each township to resurface more pavement with the same amount of capital. “It’s a win-win for everybody,” Cartwright said.

NECESSARY PUBLIC POLICY

Increasingly, however, such service-sharing strategies that rely on economies of scale to produce cost savings are not only winning ideas but necessary public policy.

Cities, townships and school districts throughout Ohio continue to be squeezed by a tightening state-budget noose. According to Innovation Ohio, a public policy watchdog group, between 2011 and 2013, Mahoning County’s local government and school districts suffered a $28 million decline in state funding. Trumbull and Columbiana counties received $22 million and $9 million less from Columbus respectively.

Such draconian cuts cannot be offset on the backs of local taxpayers.

As the Ohio Office of Budget and Management said in a report last year, “Ohio’s individual cities and townships have taken on expenses that are unsustainable, and the state’s ability to assist them is limited. Regional approaches to collaboration and coordination are necessary to preserve services to Ohioans and to achieve affordability.”

But making regional inroads to Ohio’s parochial and fragmented network of 3,962 units of local government has come slowly. Far too many local governments insist on clinging to a 19th century model of the status quo.

Today that status quo is untenable.

Innovation works

The partnership among three of Mahoning County’s largest townships on road paving illustrates that innovation and consolidation can work relatively seamlessly. Many other joint government programs in the Valley deliver similar dividends. But far more are needed.

State Auditor Dave Yost has set up a website, aptly named skinnyohio.org to give public officials a warehouse of ideas on how sharing, consolidating and, yes, even merging local governments, will benefit the bottom lines of community budgets. City, township and school district leaders should visit it and consider any of its warehouse of ideas.

By thinking collectively, planning innovatively and acting regionally, the Mahoning Valley can start knocking down the abject inefficiency of its fractured fiefdoms of 17 cities, 23 villages, 56 townships and 40 public school districts.


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