Campbell’s fiscal crises offer lessons to area communities

We use the word crises in the headline instead of crisis to describe what Campbell has gone through since 2004 because it is part of the historical record of the city’s financial struggles going back at least 70 years. And each time Campbell has emerged from its collapse, there has been a warning to government: The next financial storm is just around the corner unless you change your ways.

Indeed, Ohio Auditor David Yost, who was on hand last week to release Campbell from nine years of fiscal emergency, delivered a version of the warning while applauding city officials and citizens for shedding the state’s oversight yoke.

“You’re spending down to your reserves,” Yost told the gathering Wednesday in City Hall. “You must not fall back into the position where it’s good enough to have [only] a few dollars left at the end of the year.”

Indeed, the five-year forecast required by the state as part of its fiscal emergency oversight shows that Campbell will end with budget deficits for 2013 through 2017. However, the state auditor noted the city had enough of a cushion to absorb the negative balances.

Nonetheless, Yost said, government needs to exercise caution.

It’s advice that should be taken to heart by just about every community in the Mahoning Valley. Republican Gov. John Kasich and the Republican-controlled General Assembly have reduced the amount of state dollars funneled into the Local Government Fund, which means counties, cities, townships and villages throughout Ohio have taken a significant financial hit.

At the same time, taxpayers have made it clear that they’re unwilling to pay more for the services they receive and are demanding that local governments do more with less.

Finally, there’s the issue of an aging population, with many residents on fixed incomes. Future economic growth, therefore, is an iffy proposition.

‘Fiscal integrity’

Campbell Mayor William VanSuch, who received a certificate from the state recognizing the city’s “fiscal integrity,” noted that the emergence from state-declared emergency was the result of city administrators, members of council, city employees and others working together.

The fact that a state-mandated fiscal oversight commission has controlled the city’s purse-strings for the past nine years spotlights the price to be paid for financial mismanagement. The loss of independence is a bitter pill to swallow.

In June 2004, when emergency was declared by then Auditor Betty Montgomery, we said it was time for Campbell to break the pattern of fiscal upheaval.

We called for a regional approach to governance, such as joining with Struthers, Lowellville, Coitsville and even Youngstown to provide administrative and safety services.

We renew that call today and urge officials from all those communities to begin serious discussions about sharing services. The status quo is not sustainable.

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