Friday, October 15, 2010


Something that should have happened a long, long time ago is the merging of duplicated local government services across Stark County.

But as long as the money was still flowing, local government efficiencies were not about to happen.

Now that Stark County and the City of Canton are facing major financial crises, all of a sudden what seemed to be undoable because of the politics of the situation is on the table for multiple duplicated local government services.

Undoubtedly, county officials were real unhappy with the Vote No Increased Taxes Committee (manned by local attorney and community activist Craig Conley and Bethlehem Township activist Tom Marcelli among others) when they successfully led an effort in November, 2009 to defeat the retention of an 0.50 imposed sales tax (by Commissioners Bosley, Harmon and Vignos - December, 2008). 

The Report believes that there is a silver lining for Stark Countians that came out of the defeat.  If there was any thought on the part of county officials that consolidation efficiencies were not imperative before the loss at the polls, those thoughts vanished the day after the election.

However, merger/consolidation and its concomitant local government efficiencies will not happen on its own notwithstanding the financial need.  A person needed to step forward and make it his/her cause.  And someone has.

Stark County Commissioner Pete Ferguson has embraced local government efficiency as his thing to focus on during his first term as commissioner.  Up until he found this cause to promote, it appeared to the SCPR that he was floundering in his effort to find an identity as commissioner.

Ferguson's first foray into doing something as commissioner was try to get the U.S. Veterans Administration to get interested in buying the Affinity Medical Center complex out in Perry Township (the old Doctors Hospital) as a supplemental patient treatment center to the VA treatment centers located in Cleveland to serve northeast Ohioans who have trouble getting to Cleveland.

Anyone who knows anything about the federal government, knows that it creeps along at a snail's pace.  And the Veterans Administration (VA) is no exception.  Ferguson was stunned at the inertia at play at the VA in his attempt to get Congressman Boccieri and Senator Sherrod Brown to prod the VA to respond to the availability of the Affinity-Perry facility.

The owners of Affinity were in a hurry to sell and therefore the VA delay was fatal to any possibility that Ferguson's idea could work.  Moreover, there are indications that more time would not have aided Ferguson because the VA is thought to be committed to Cleveland as the only VA facilities that it will maintain for northeast Ohioans.

To his credit, Ferguson looked for another project to work on and he found one:  "Local government efficiency!"

While the county and City of Canton has been working on merging some of their duplicative services for a couple of years, the commissioner side of the discussions has undergone a major change and will be experiencing additional changes.

Tom Harmon is gone (December, 2009), Todd Bosley is leaving (December,2010) and Steve Meeks (in the opinion of the SCPR) will be vacating office in December, 2010.

So Ferguson, a man with staying ability (at least until December, 2012), and a person who can see to it that Stark County government becomes more efficient.

Earlier this year he began a series of meetings to re-energize lagging discussion between Stark County and City of Canton officials on merger/consolidation of county and city building and health departments.

A major breakthrough appears to have taken place as witness a letter from Canton mayor William J. Healy, II dated October 13, 2010 to Canton City Council.  The letter outlined the history of merger talks, the compatibility of Stark and Canton building department operations for consolidation and specific scenarios about how greater cooperation or merger could take place.

At the very least, it appears that the Stark County building department will be relocating to the old Sears store in the 400 block of Market Avenue North.  It could be - for the sake of local government efficiency, however, that Stark County will agree to a takeover of its building department functions by the Canton building department according to terms and conditions to be laid out in a contract to be negotiated by attorneys for the respective entities.

The SCPR favors such a change even though it appears to The Report that Healy is ambitious to expand Canton's jurisdiction.  The takeover will not cost Stark Countians because, according to Mayor Healy, fees (adjusted by Canton and Stark County to be mirror images of each other) plus "economies of scale" will make the transition cost free to Stark County for now.  However, when the contract comes up to renewal, Canton will be in "the catbird seat" in determining fees because Stark County will not have a building department to go back to once its former department has been absorbed into the Canton system - even if it is by contract.  Structurally, county commissioners will have to raise county fees.  But the amount of the increase will be controlled by Canton.

Yours truly has already commented about Healy's apparent effort to take de facto control over the Canton schools.  Moreover, the 9-1-1 reconfiguration will be centered in Canton with a backup at the Stark County sheriff's facility.  It will be interesting to see the shape of the merger that is likely to take place between Canton and Stark County on the consolidation of the respective health departments.  It appears that Canton's health department will be the surviving entity.

Healy is not the issue on consolidation/merger because,  in the opinion of the SCPR, he is likely to be gone after 2011.  The Report believes that it is unlikely that he will be reelected by Cantonians.  Unless County Auditor Kim Perez loses his auditor's post to Republican Alan Harold, Canton Councilman Bill Smuckler is likely to become mayor of Canton.

Smuckler is probably Stark County's leading proponent of regionalism.

Smuckler, who is a big supporter of Sam "Darth Vader to the Townships" Sliman and his aggressive annexation profile, appears to the SCPR to be committed to expanding Canton's role as much countywide as he possibly can as a matter of economic/financial survival. for the Hall of Fame city.

While Commissioner Ferguson says that he wants merger/consolidation talks and fruition to be non-political, the SCPR believes that such is unrealistic.

The key to the Ferguson-led effort will be how the villages, cities and township react.

A test of their response is underway.

On the 9-1-1 rework into a countywide "state-of-art" system, 66% of the county's political subdivisions are on board.

Next Tuesday a meeting is to be held (called by Commissioner Ferguson) at the Stark County Regional Planning office on Stark's political subdivisions joining together in a "Secure Internet-Bidding Service."

How will the villages, cities (other than Canton) and townships respond?

Here is a list of the invitees.  How many will attend?

 Finally, here is a video of Commissioners Ferguson and Meeks discussing the merger/consolidation issues at Wednesday's (October 13, 2010) meeting.

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