Let 911 merger be the start of greater regionalization
As longtime true believers in the gospel of regionalization and consolidation of local government services, we hail the news this week that Mahoning County plus Boardman and Austintown townships plan to consolidate their 911 emergency telephone services.
It should, however, represent just the start of more aggressive efforts toward greater 911 consolidation in the county and greater cost-saving cooperative ventures in other arenas among our region’s dozens of other public entities.
Mahoning County commissioners Thursday approved a plan to unite the three 911 answering points and to seek a $300,000 federal grant to purchase state-of-the-art communications equipment for the partnership. The plan also involves formation of a council of governments to administer the network.
That agreement forming the Austintown-Boardman-Mahoning County Joint Communication District hits the nail on the head in the assets it will provide in services and savings to taxpayers. The pact says its purpose is for “collaborating, coordinating and consolidating public resources for cost efficiency and the avoidance of redundant systems.”
Leaders of these three communities, however, did not move in the direction of efficiency without a little nudge. A new law has decreed that the state will fund only three 911 answering points per county beginning in 2018. Even with this consolidation, Mahoning County will still be bloated with eight such answering points.
Clearly, much more work lies ahead. As that work progresses, consolidating Youngstown’s 911 answering point with the new consortium should become an immediate priority, as reports indicate the merger of Warren city’s system with Trumbull County’s in recent months has transitioned well.
In the long run, all 911 centers should aim toward achieving Sheriff Jerry Greene’s goal of establishing only one single answering center for the entire county with one backup location.
RESISTANCE CAN BE EXPECTED
Of course, if the past is instructive, as that merger movement strengthens, so, too, will organized resistance to it. After all, in many ways – not just in the operation of emergency 911 services – Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties have snubbed regionalization initiatives in favor of maintaining inefficient and costly political subdivisions that have long outlived their effectiveness.
Too often, some local government leaders insist on seeing consolidation and regionalization as threats to their control rather than as treats for taxpayers seeking stronger service delivery and more bang for the bucks.
By thinking collectively, planning innovatively and acting regionally, the Mahoning Valley can start knocking down the walls of abject inefficiency of its fractured fiefdoms of 17 cities, 23 villages, 56 townships and 40 public school districts.