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What Would Merging Mean?

Wednesday, November 28, 2007 at 8:35 AM

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Northeast Ohio's economy has drastically changed over the last decade. Municipal budgets have shrunk. Manufacturing jobs have declined and the urban core -- Cleveland -- is losing population. As leaders search for solutions, talk of regionalism has ignited conversations and ideas, including more collaboration among cities, even the possibility of merger between city and county government in Cleveland and Cuyahoga County. This week ideastream is exploring that radical idea with reports and interviews on radio and TV. A special hour long edition of ideas on the topic will be aired Thursday night at 8:00, and this morning economics reporter Tasha Flournoy gives us more perspective on how some local mayors view regional cooperation.

Regionalism. It’s the 11-letter buzz word that means different things to different people. And, finding a solid definition of regionalism is one of the major drawbacks to fulfilling the promise of a regional strategy.

David Abbott: Everybody is supportive of this notion of greater collaboration and operating more regionally in theory and in concept. The hard part’s getting it put into practice. That’s tough. 

That’s David Abbott, director of the George Gund Foundation and co-chair of Voices and Choices, the two-year series of town hall meetings that brought more than 20,000 citizens and leaders from 16 area counties together. The meetings addressed the economic challenges and advantages of the region, including one of the biggest challenges: Fear.

Abbott said he recognizes some community and government leaders fear job loss if one municipality had to merge with another. Or they feel threatened by the loss of political power or authority if services are shared. Garfield Heights Mayor Thomas Longo says several Northeast Ohio communities have shared city services like fire or police for many years, but, some leaders like him want guaranteed incentives to get on-board.

Thomas Longo: If you’re going to get into a consortium to share services then I have as mayor of Garfield Heights now has two rules. One, are we gonna improve services, and are we gonna cut costs? And if the answer to those two steps is yes. Then by all means, let’s do it. 

To tackle those concerns and fears, the group behind Voices and Choices created a regional action agenda called Advance Northeast Ohio. The plan sets out to work on four principles: Grow and attract business, develop talent, encourage racial and economic inclusion, and support government collaboration and efficiency.

It’s the prospect of government collaboration that excites Hudson Mayor Bill Currin. As the head of the Northeast Ohio Mayors and City Managers Association and a strong advocate for regionalism in its various forms, Currin is leading a research study into regional tax revenue sharing.

Bill Currin: What we’re looking into is revenue sharing on new capital investment only. There’s no look back on this. Where you are, is where you are but, on new capital investment only and also better land planning.

The proposal would apply to businesses expanding or moving or new available land. Currin expects to make public a draft of the tax sharing proposal by March.

Still, some leaders and residents are reluctant to share or collaborate or think beyond their borders. So, Advance Northeast Ohio launched a study into the costs and benefits of fragmented government. The 6-month study will look at all the expenses and revenue for every community in 16 counties of Northeast Ohio. Those figures will go into a database to determine where there’s excess and duplication. 

Bay Village Mayor Debbie Sutherland is a longtime proponent of regionalism. Because her city is a bedroom community where most residents work elsewhere, she claims to take a realistic perspective on regionalism.

Debbie Sutherland: We also have to look at the fact, and the reality that we may not end up with 100 percent participation. But maybe you get half, and half is better than nothing.

If Sutherland and other leaders accept even minimal participation, it can still be a challenge to keep a group together once they join. That’s evidenced in this week’s collapse of a Summit County alliance. The village of Silver Lake dropped out of a five-town, joint emergency dispatch service and at least two more towns are expected to follow suit.

Tasha Flournoy, 90.3.

Additional Information

ideas airs Thursday, November 29, 2007 on WVIZ/PBS.

Tags

Government/Politics, Regional Economy/Business - Analysis and Trends, Regional Economy/Business - News

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