We Must Get Regionalism Right
The following has been submitted to many of the region’s newspapers for publication:
By Rob Briggs and William Currin
Northeast Ohio must get regionalism right.
The acrimonious debate over the fate of the Avon interchange on I-90 is a watershed moment for our region. While some characterize the resolution of the debate as a sign that regionalism will never work in Northeast Ohio, we say that it is proof positive that our region needs a broad, collaborative approach to economic development that enables every community an opportunity to contribute to and share in its growth.
Simply put, regionalism isn’t a choice. It is our reality. We are a region because we, as individuals, act regionally. Nearly 25% of us in the 16 counties that make up Northeast Ohio work in a different county than where we live. We are a region because the global economy treats us as a region. Corporations base investment decisions not on which city or town they want to be in, but what a region has to offer that bolsters their ability to compete.
Regionalism isn’t unique to Northeast Ohio. Cities and their surrounding communities across this country share an inescapable common destiny. This is made clear by a Brookings Institution study that found that out of 118 communities only five had a weak city inside a strong region or vice versa. It is an economic fact of life that the health of our region and our core cities are inextricably linked.
The devastating cost of getting regionalism wrong can be seen all across Northeast Ohio. Core communities, from Youngstown to Lorain, are scarred by vacant homes, abandoned businesses and decaying infrastructure. Our outlying, rural communities are at risk of losing their quality of life at the hands of unfettered sprawl. Our region’s economy is growing slower than our pace of physical growth. That means higher taxes for any given level of services. We are approaching the point where neither our economy nor our environment can support all of the concrete we are pouring.
We, as individuals, act regionally every day. However, we rarely work collectively at being regional. We began to make real progress at changing that earlier this year when the region’s business, political, philanthropic and other leaders joined together to support a series of economic development initiatives that are part of Advance Northeast Ohio, the region’s economic action plan. One of the four focus areas of Advance Northeast Ohio is implementing programs and policies that encourage more efficient and collaborative government and governmental services in Northeast Ohio.
The Avon interchange issue highlights the need for our region to accelerate the process of building trust among the region’s many governmental bodies. We can no longer afford ad hoc regionalism, nor can we afford to have one group or party try to dictate how regionalism will unfold in Northeast Ohio. We must reach these conclusions together…collectively.
A broad, collaborative, sustainable, and nonpartisan approach to regional economic development that would include revenue sharing and common land use practices is being explored by the Northeast Ohio Mayors and City Managers Association with assistance from the Fund for Our Economic Future. This approach won’t ask any community to give up what they have now, but calls on all of us to share together in our future growth. We expect to present to all of the communities in Northeast Ohio details about this approach early in 2008.
The Northeast Ohio Mayors and City Managers Association has taken an important step toward getting regionalism right by undertaking this project and the Fund is prepared to do more to encourage a collaborative, sustainable, and nonpartisan regional approach to economic development. Who else is prepared to step forward? As Benjamin Franklin said upon signing the Declaration of Independence, “We must hang together…else, we shall most assuredly hang separately.” He and others went on to form “a more perfect union.” We need to do the same. Join with us in developing and implementing the solution to assure a brighter future for Northeast Ohio.
Rob Briggs is chairman of the Fund for Our Economic Future and William A. Currin is Mayor of Hudson and chairman of the Northeast Ohio Mayors & City Managers Association.
What it Takes to Share
Elected officials from Northeast Ohio are taking a very hard look at whether the region can implement a revenue sharing program that would allow communities to participate in and benefit from economic growth. Sharing tax revenue among communities may sound like a radical idea, but it really isn’t. It’s done in pockets in Northeast Ohio (particularly in Summit County) and its been widely adopted in one of the Midwest’s most competitive region’s — the Twin Cities of Minnesota.
One of the key advocates for revenue sharing is Myron Orfield, executive director of the Institute on Race and Poverty at the University of Minnesota. The former state legislator is working with the Northeast Ohio Mayors and City Managers Association on its revenue sharing study. You can watch a series of videos of Myron explaining how revenue sharing could help make our region more competitive on the Regional Economic Revenue Study web site.
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# Submitted by Linda Ro (not verified) on Thu, 02/14/2008 – 21:48.
In theory, this ia a great idea. I see two current problems. 1) The idea as I understand it is that the suburbs will share a % of their revenue growth with Youngstown. However, the suburbs are facing financial problems, too. Witness Boardman. This leaves little to share. 2) I would want to know who is going to control the money. I would trust Youngstown officials about as far as I could throw them, and I’m a pretty weak female. When a commission of businessmen was put in charge of the Chevy Center, the City Councilmen threw them out, and most of us in the suburbs think it was so the Councilmen could get kickbacks. Unless there is going to be very honest, very close oversight of any shared funds, most suburbanites will oppose the plan. This same feeling plays into Mayor Williams’ JEDD plan even though I like him alot. 3) I do think Louisville’s system of shared purchasing leading to shared services but leaving each community’s elected officials in place might work here.
# Submitted by cthompson on Fri, 02/15/2008 – 08:08.
Thanks Linda for the post.
The key to making revenue sharing work is to have a large enough pool of dollars shared that the vast majority of communities benefit — even struggling suburbs. I agree that governments will have to demonstrate that they are investing the “shared revenue” wisely. The experience in the Twin Cities shows it can be done. Minneapolis has gone from being a beneficiary of revenue sharing to the single largest contributor to the revenue pool. So big cities can turn things around. Regarding shared purchasing, I hope you’ll encourage your elected officials to join NEOSO, a shared purchasing program that is generating meaningful savings for communities throughout Northeast Ohio.
Will Talk Lead to Gov’t Merger
Merging government units is never easy, but it can happen when the right people are in positions of power and when the incentives for change are greater than the desire for the status quo. It’s too early to tell if the time is right, but officials with three health departments in Summit County are talking about a merger again.
ABJ reporter Cheryll Powell details the conversation today:
Summit County’s three health departments are talking about whether to consider merging the public agencies to improve services and save money.
The Akron Health Department, the Summit County Health District and the Barberton Health District have had informal, ”exploratory” discussions about investigating a merger, Summit County Health Commissioner Gene Nixon said.
”There isn’t anything like a decision to form a committee or hire a consultant,” Nixon said this week. ”We’re moving toward the point where we should talk about that.”
The idea of merging the county’s health departments has been floated several times during the past 15 years, Nixon said.
Akron recently merged its building department with the county’s building department. And the city’s police department and the county sheriff are working more closely together. Perhaps Summit County will become the leader in the region when it comes to government consolidation.
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Will Crisis Drive Change?
The state of Ohio is running out of money — a lot of money. Communities from Warren to Wooster are running large deficits. And the economists are predicting a prolonged recession.
In short, we are in a financial crisis that many believe is more severe than any previously faced by our region’s communities. One way to look at the challenge is: “The system is broken and we’re broke.”
The question before us is what changes are we prepared to make to improve our region’s ability to cope with the short-term crisis and prosper in the long run? It seems fairly clear that continuing to do things the way we’ve done them isn’t going to work. What new systems can be put into place to make our region’s governments more efficient and effective, and help the region become more attractive to growing companies?
One business organization, the Youngstown-Warren Regional Chamber of Commerce, has endorsed an effort led by the Northeast Ohio Mayors & City Managers Association to implement regional planning and revenue sharing in the region. You can read more about their endorsement in a story written by Larry Ringler of the Warren Tribune Chronicle. You can learn more about the Regional Planning and Revenue Sharing initiative here.
Census Reporting by Governments – where is Northeast Ohio?
Earlier this year many of you read about the Cost of Government Study commissioned by the Fund for Our Economic Future and other partners in Advance Northeast Ohio that provides a comprehensive resource to the public to aid in analyzing the cost of government in Northeast Ohio (16 counties). In doing this report we learned that government costs $17 billion annually, or 10% of our GRP (gross regional product). Curious what your government spends on fire versus your neighbor, or want to see the trend in administrative costs over the 10 year period spanning 1992, 1997 and 2002? If so, check it out.
The US Census may require individuals to declare their existence and other detailed information once every 10 years, but it requires governments to report their expenses and revenues every 5 years on the 02 and 07 of a decade. Census reports were due from local government in July of last year, and the Census kept open the deadline until the end of October for late filers. As of 10-31-08 there were many Northeast Ohio governments – 220 of 857 or 25% – whose information is not on file with the US Census. Included in that list of 219 governments are 5 counties, 63 cities, 113 townships and 38 special districts. Want to know if governments to which you pay taxes did their part and filed? Check out the attachment (click on the tabs at the bottom to see the detail). You need to be registered with this site to access the file. Register here.
I’m curious to know if this information makes you mad. Please post your thoughts and responses here.
Slow Pace of Government Change
A recent study of the Cost of Government in Northeast Ohio highlighted the ample opportunities for more efficient, effective government in the region. One area of significant duplication of services is public safety and several communities in the region have found ways to combine and share resources to lower costs and improve service. Communities in the Mahoning Valley are trying to do the same, but it’s taking longer than some would like.
In this recent editorial, the Youngstown Vindicator questions why a consultant believes it will take five years to consolidate 911 services in Mahoning County.
Here’s part of their editorial:
Five years is not to be part of any public official’s vocabulary when discussing 911. Too much time has passed, it is not ground-breaking governance and, this is something the business community is demanding — as reflected in the chamber’s position.
There is no excuse for consolidation not to become a reality within a year. The only impediment to progress is political parochialism.
What is the pace of government change in your community? If it needs to move faster, what can we do to help accelerate the pace of change?