A little over a month after his tenure as mayor of Youngstown came to an end, one of Charles Sammarone’s signature initiatives was unceremoniously dumped.
From the time he succeeded Jay Williams as the city’s chief executive in August 2011, Sammarone had made the consolidation of the city and county health departments a priority.
He was persistent — despite the lack of enthusiastic support from officials in both agencies. It was a tough row to hoe because politics, special interests and job preservation reared their ugly heads.
From the outset, we gave our strong, unequivocal backing to Sammarone’s initiative because we believe local governments in their current forms are economically unsustainable and archaic.
We remain unwavering in our endorsement of the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber as it attempts to sell the idea of metropolitan government in Mahoning and Trumbull counties. Needless to say, reaction from officeholders and other public employees has been lukewarm, at best.
Thus, we were encouraged by Sammarone’s laser-like focus on the consolidation of the health departments. He advocated folding the city health agency into the Mahoning County Health District, pointing out that Akron’s health department was dissolved.
The Summit County Health District provides services in Akron, and from all accounts there haven’t been any disruptions.
As Sammarone was leaving office last December, he seemed to have convinced county health officials that one agency is a win-win, especially given the rumblings in Columbus about the future of health districts in the state.
If Republican Gov. John Kasich wins a second term this year, there’s talk that he will push to reduce the number of health districts. Should that occur, Mahoning County could get wrapped into Portage County’s operation.
With Sammarone out of the mayor’s office, and his successor, John A. McNally, still getting acclimated to city government, the Youngstown City Health Board recently indicated that consolidation and contracting for services with the county were off the table.
An informal poll of the board members revealed unanimous support for the city health department continuing to stand alone.
Although McNally is president of the health board, he was not at the meeting and has not weighed in publicly on the board’s decision.
We would urge him to discuss the issue with Sammarone, who has returned to his elected position as president of city council, and to talk to officials in Columbus about state government’s plans.
The governor has made it clear that he wants state and local governments to do more with less and to be innovative in the way they deliver services to the taxpayers.
In his first biennium budget, Kasich set aside money to reward communities that form partnerships and develop cost-saving programs.
The consolidation of the county and city health departments would stand a good chance of securing some of the state dollars.
Members of the city health board would do well to revisit their decision against consolidation. The city of Youngstown is facing tremendous fiscal challenges, and all departments and agencies must find ways of cutting operating costs.
The status quo is no longer an option.