Latest study on city of Youngstown was shrouded in mystery because YSU officials didn’t provide copies


On the side

The Vindicator sent letters last week to certain candidates running in the Nov. 3 general election asking them to fill out questionnaires. The candidates who received the questionnaires are running for Youngstown City Council [only the five wards with competitive races]; mayors in Campbell, Struthers and Warren; trustees in Austintown, Boardman, Canfield and Liberty; and for school board seats in Austintown, Boardman, Canfield, Poland, South Range, Youngstown, Girard and Liberty.

If you are running in one of those races and haven’t received a letter, please call me at 330-747-1471 ext. 1264 or email me at skolnick@vindy.com.

If you have the letter and have done nothing with it, drop everything, follow the instructions and complete the online questionnaire.

Meanwhile, the Mahoning Valley Democratic Club will have its endorsement meeting at 1 p.m. Saturday at the Lowellville Mount Carmel Society hall, 104 Washington St. Each candidate will have two minutes to speak.

Anyone paying the club’s $10 dues – and new members can sign up beginning at 12:15 p.m. – can vote on the endorsements.

The pay-that-day endorsement policy has served the club well over the years, bringing in a decent amount of money used to advertise its endorsed candidates.

I have no doubt that those who’ve spent the last two years putting together a study as to how Youngstown can increase economic development did so with good intentions.

However, history shows the numerous other studies that detailed how to improve the city accomplish very little.

This one didn’t get off to a good start.

The Youngstown State University Center for Urban and Regional Studies took the lead on discussing this study with local stakeholders and the media Tuesday.

I’ve dealt with the CURS staff there before, and they do very good work.

But the 465-page report was made available to just a few people at the event. I was told by one of the organizers that the study was just printed that day.

It was so lacking in detail that one media outlet at the event concentrated on an aspect of the proposal that was introduced a couple of months ago.

I was also told by others at the announcement that the study would be available online. Before I left, a CURS official said it would be a few days before it was put on a couple of websites. As of late Thursday, it wasn’t on either.

I would think you’d put the study online first and then hand out printed copies.

It’s a challenge to write about a report when you don’t have access to it, and have to rely on the broad goals listed on a projector.

For argument’s sake, let’s say the study has tremendous merit. It’s going to be a challenge to get much done.

As Ronald Chordas, CURS’s executive director, said Tuesday and other times over the past few years: It’s a lot easier to obtain money for studies than to implement them.

This study was funded by a $220,000 grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration.

YSU officials said they’ll be pursuing a federal Department of Transportation grant for infrastructure improvements. But that funding isn’t available until April 2016.

I asked Michael A. Hripko, YSU’s associate vice president of research, why this study was different from the others that were supposed to turn around Youngstown, and he said, “I see synergy among community leaders and our institutions. The leaders say, ‘These are noble goals and reasonable goals.’”

The same was said more than a decade ago during the unveiling of the Youngstown 2010 plan.

The $300,000 plan received international attention, and the 150-page report, which sits on my desk collecting dust, was going to right-size the city.

However, the city’s population declined significantly more than anyone or anything – including the plan, adopted in 2005 – anticipated.

The two key points in it that became reality were revitalization of downtown – though there’s a good argument that reopening Federal Street is the main reason – and demolishing a lot of vacant houses.

In September 2012, a $250,000 study, called “The Youngstown Plan” (not to be confused with the recent state plan by the same clever name to take over the city school district), offered more than 50 recommendations to overhaul city government operations.

About six or eight recommendations were implemented, but this plan was so off the mark in predicting a multi-million-dollar deficit for Youngstown in 2013 that it’s probably not worth a serious look.

One recommendation it made was to consider selling the city-owned Covelli Centre, which turns a profit for Youngstown.

The city then spent $50,000 for a company to examine the operations of the center. That study urged the city not sell or lease the center. The city attempted to do so, but didn’t receive any proposals and quickly dropped that thought.

I could go on about a couple of water studies, including a $100,000 one that was dead on arrival when I reported that it recommended imposing a 2 percent to 2.25 percent income tax on those who work and/or live in Austintown and Boardman, and receive city water.

With this new plan, $1.34 million has been spent in the last decade on studies to improve the city without much success.

The point is this latest study probably includes great ideas, but implementing them are significantly more difficult, and not possible in most cases.

But at 465 pages, it makes a nice doorstop when copies are available.

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