With local governments across the region facing extreme budget shortfalls it will be interesting to see how many communities follow the “merger” lead set by Akron and Summit County.
As this story in the Akron Beacon Journal reports, Akron City Council reluctantly approved the merger of the city and count building department this week. While budget concerns weren’t the only driving force behind the merger, the efficiency of operating only one building department will save taxpayer money. The Cost of Government Research done earlier this year highlighted that there are many more opportunities for government mergers and collaborations across Northeast Ohio.
How many governments will use the current economic crisis to dramatically change the way they do business?
Increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of local government is one of the four priorities of Advance Northeast Ohio and the State of Ohio is an invaluable ally in that effort.
Today, the state announced six grants to governments in Northeast Ohio to encourage greater government collaboration and efficiency. Communities that won the grants include:
Ashland County will receive an $80,000 grant to conduct a study to estimate the implementation and maintenance costs of providing a collaborative high-speed Internet service for Ashland County, its municipalities, villages, and townships. The Internet service will increase opportunities for economic development, provide more efficient emergency management, and better access to public services such as county Web sites and Geographic Information Systems.
The Village of Carrollton (Carroll County) will receive a $75,000 grant to conduct a feasibility study that will assess the potential for cooperation of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) services. The study will research, identify, evaluate, and make recommendations for end-user needs, GIS software, GPS units, personnel requirements, project costs, and project implementation plans.
The City of Cleveland (Cuyahoga County) will receive a $38,751 grant to study regional collaboration on energy efficiency through Smart Metering. Smart Metering uses utility meters that allow users to see and record consumption and cost in real-time.
One of the keys to Advance Northeast Ohio’s success is forging a close relationship with the state of Ohio, which (despite its financial challenges) has the resources to support innovation and commercialization efforts that are essential to the long-term future of the region. NorTech has worked closely with the state to expand the Third Frontier program, which has attracted more than $500 million in state support of projects ranging from liquid crystals to cardiac care and from fuel cells to next-generation rubber.
Last week, two Republican leaders warned that the Strickland Administration was allowing politics to infect the Third Frontier program.
Here is a highlight from an Associated Press report last week:
In an unprecedented move, Senate President Bill Harris and House Speaker Jon Husted appeared jointly before the little-noticed Third Frontier Commission and urged a reversal of a July policy change that gives the state Department of Development a role in evaluating grant recipients. Both lawmakers are Republicans and Strickland is a Democrat.
Husted, of Kettering, said legislators specifically crafted the Third Frontier program to be free of political influence by placing grant evaluations in the hands of outside experts, including the National Academy of Sciences. He reminded Democratic Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher, who directs the commission, that the GOP did so at the urging of Democrats concerned the program could become a slush fund for then-Gov. Bob Taft, a Republican.
“We should assure the public that the best available science, not the best available connections, are determining who gets these contracts,” Husted said.
First key point:
Cuyahoga officials accused Lorain County of being an economic vampire sucking the life’s blood out of Cuyahoga County via that major artery, I-90.
If Cuyahoga County officials want to improve their economy, they should work hard at it and apply some leadership and vision to grow economically alongside its neighboring counties.
An observation: Cuyahoga County’s economy is not separate from Lorain County’s. It is the same economy. The question before our region is what type of programs and procedures are we going to implement to make our economy globally competitive.
Second key point:
Cuyahoga County’s NOACA strong-arm tactic works. Once.
Now, if Lorain County is smart, it will get out of NOACA and join, or start, a similar agency to meet its needs. Some Medina County officials want out of NOACA too, having watched in horror as Avon was assaulted and realized Medina County is likely to be bloodied next. Medina and Lorain county officials should see if others want to join in a move away from NOACA, and get it done.
A second observation: Clearly, there needs to be a more trusted regional process developed to address regional transportation and physical development issues. But suggesting that Lorain County can somehow secede from the region is as practical as suggesting that Lorain County physically pack up move. It cannot be done. We need to fix our system, not break up the region.
As Rob Briggs of the GAR Foundation in Akron and the Fund for Our Economic Future and Hudson Mayor William Currin said in a recent column, we have to get regionalism right if Northeast Ohio’s economy is going to prosper.
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# Submitted by Arnold L. Johnson (not verified) on Tue, 11/06/2007 – 15:31.
Let’s see, there are in reality no real industrial or business centers between west Cleveland and Sandusky. This means most of Lorain County has had to look to Cleveland for their work and business needs. Now counties west of Cleveland must pay Cuyahoga County a ransom to have access to traffic that passes thru (via I-90) because Cuyahoga feels threatened by growth in those western counties!! Regionally, Cuyahoga does not have the resourses, the business base or the JOBS to support all of northeast Ohio. Cuyahoga has a few economic flesh wounds that can heal over night with some care. Lorain County has been devastated in comparison yet Cuyahoga has the bigger concern, the largest voice. I think Cuyahoga County is only there in the NOACA to insure its own domination in the region. It is obvious that Cuyahoga County does not really care about the plight of its neighbors. Do we have to continue sticking our collective necks out there so they can bite and drink? Is regionalism really working for us? Do we need to rethink it? I’d say the counties with the most need should have the most voice.
# Submitted by Peter Holmes on Thu, 11/08/2007 – 12:06.
The Ohio Department of Transportation’s desire to eliminate inner-belt interchanges in Cleveland’s Mid-Town and Quadrangle neighborhoods will have a predictable outcome: businesses will relocate outside Cleveland. The justification enabling thru traffic to travel faster through center city Cleveland is in contrast to the positions taken in Lorain County. The net net is that highways are political, and real estate interests are among politicians’ biggest supporters. When traffic engineers supposedly drive the process of expanding or enhancing roadways, look under the onion skin to find out what is really going on.
In his recent blog post, Brad Whitehead pointed out that some officials consider the recent revenue sharing agreement surrounding the Avon interchange project to be the equivalent of having a gun put to one’s head.
Hudson Mayor William Currin, and chairman of the Northeast Ohio Mayors and City Managers Association, stressed at the association meeting today that the Avon situation is proof positive that the more comprehensive revenue sharing approach being developed by the association is sorely needed. “We need to move forward as a region,” he told his fellow mayors. The revenue sharing research being led by the mayors association is trying to develop a program where “everybody participates and everybody benefits.”
He said the data gathering will be completed in January and several scenarios for how revenue sharing could be implemented in the region will be available in March. He called the research a work in progress.
“No one knows the answer of how cooperative we can be except ourselves,” he said.
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I suspect that many of you did not see the article in yesterday’s Medina Gazette about the Avon interchange and NOACA (http://wp2.medina-gazette.com/?s=county+weighs). In it, Commissioner Steve Hambley – a leading voice of regionalism and a member of the NOACA Board – lamented that Avon had a “gun to its head.” According to the article, the Medina commissioners are even considering pulling out of NOACA so as not to be put in the same position. Brunswick city manager Bob Zienkowski was even quoted as saying that the Avon deal “is the best of example of why regionalism won’t work here. It’s a prelude of what’s coming.”
Without a doubt, getting to the Avon deal was a painful process that generated hard feeling. And from what I understand, it involved a considerable amount of cajoling, arm-twisting, and public posturing. It is understandable why Bob, Steve, and others would express concern.
But it would be wrong to conclude that this should cause us to beat a retreat from more regional approaches – quite the contrary, let this be a call for us to find more comprehensive, forward-looking approach so we can avoid this sort of situation in the future.
First, it is pointless to talk about being “for” or “against” regionalism, much as one might talk about whether they are “for” or “against” sunrises. Regionalism is a fact of life in the early 21st century; it is how economies organize. The only question is WHAT KIND of regionalism we want. I would assert that the uncoordinated, unplanned, beggar-thy-neighbor approach we have had to date is what has led to tumultuous transactional situations like the one we witnessed with Avon.
NOW IS NOT THE TIME TO WALK AWAY FROM THE TABLE. Do that, and we will just have more and increasingly acrimonious disagreements on how taxpayer dollars should be used and for whose benefits. Instead, let’s use this as a moment to spur the real conversation about how we want to involve and what steps we might take to focus on growing the resources of the region rather than moving them from one place to another.
Fortunately, the Northeast Ohio Mayors and Managers are doing just that with their effort to explore revenue sharing for new growth opportunities. I suspect many people initially viewed this work as an interesting thought exercise; it now assumes vital proportions.
And might this most recent situation create an opportunity for NOACA to reexamine how to define its mandate? Or if not NOACA, how else might we come together as a collective regional community to determine how to best align our physical development with our economic development. I am sure we can come to an accommodation that beats the status quo many times over (a low threshold, I know!).
Let’s hope that we will look back on the situation in Avon as the transition point to a new era in the investment of our scarce public resources to the greatest effect.
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