Perhaps it was just an oversight, or it may well be that for Austintown and Boardman townships, the two largest suburban communities in the Mahoning Valley, it isn’t a priority. But the omission of a Joint Economic Development District with Youngstown on their lists of projects for 2014 should give the city’s new mayor, John A. McNally, pause.
After all, Youngstown needs to expand its tax base, which a JEDD in each of the townships would facilitate. Indeed, during last year’s campaign, McNally, former Mahoning County commissioner and Youngstown law director, touted his experience in dealing with suburban government officials as being important for establishing a close working relationship between the city and its neighbors.
While Youngstown and Boardman appear to have found common ground in their discussions about joint economic development initiatives, there’s no such connection with Austintown. In fact, the senior member of the board of trustees, Lisa Oles, has publicly expressed her disdain for the heavy-handed approach taken by Youngstown officials, especially Finance Director David Bozanich, in the city’s attempt to create a JEDD.
The other two trustees, Jim Davis, who won re-election in November, and Ken Carano, who led a crowded field of candidates for the open seat on the board, appear to be more concilia- tory, but even they believe that Youngstown cannot dictate the terms of an agreement.
Any discussion of a JEDD centers on drinking water — the city’s ability to provide it and the suburbs’ need for it in order to attract new businesses and industry. Youngstown now supplies all of Austintown and half of Boardman with water, with the suburban customers paying a surcharge over the rates that apply to city residents.
A JEDD would enable Youngstown to levy an income tax on those working in the district, with the revenue generated being split by the two communities.
But that’s easier said than done. Last year’s flap over the proposal to create a taxation district encompassing the site of the $125 million Hollywood Slots at Mahoning Valley Race Course being built in Austintown forced the developer, Penn National Gaming, to find another source of drinking water. Penn National believes it can self-supply through wells on the property.
Tensions were exacerbated when the city under Mayor Charles Sammarone not only proposed an income tax, but also said Penn National would have to pay a profit tax.
Thus, the major suburban communities in Mahoning County — Austintown, Boardman, Poland and Canfield — are going forward this year with projects they believe will enhance their communities economically and improve the quality of life for their residents.
By any measure, the racino in Austintown is the main event. Not only is the investment by the private company unprecedented for the township, but the 1,000-plus construction jobs and the 1,000-plus permanent jobs once the racino is up and running already are making a difference.
It does help that the township has received $1 million from Penn National, will receive another $1 million this year, and will then get $500,000 a year from Penn so long as the racino is in operation.
This revenue stream is enabling township government to pay off debts and to give trustees the ability to plan for the future.
Austintown’s collaboration with Lane Life Trans ambulance with a three-member staff is a quality-of-life initiative that has long been discussed.
In Boardman, the 2016 strategic plan continues to guide the township’s development.
One of the largest projects being studied is the replacement of the main fire station.
Residents will have the opportunity to be heard because the trustees intend to “take the show on the road,” Administrator Jason Loree said.
Poland Township is looking at a street-lighting project along state Route 170, according to Trustee Eric Ungaro, while updating the township’s website is a project the new trustee, Joanne Wollet, wants to pursue.
Ungaro, whose father, Patrick, is administrator in Liberty Township and a former mayor of Youngstown, says the township will aggressively go after grants. It’s what the elder Ungaro is doing in Liberty and did when he led Youngstown.
Poland Village will focus on expanding its arts and entertainment sector.
Canfield Township and city also are looking at capital-improvement projects, including the Fairview Drive Storm Sewer Project and the $2.8 million water tower to be built on U.S. Route 224 between Tippecanoe and Raccoon roads. The tower will support the Westford and Ironwood developments.