Council of Governments to pick up some projects

WARREN — The Trumbull County Council of Governments was formed nearly 18 months ago and while the members contend it is picking up speed, trustees in Champion voted to leave the group last month.

“We joined last year and when it came up for renewal, we agreed not to move forward with it,” Rex Fee, Champion Township trustee, said.

“With my background and experience, I know what types of politics are involved with these types of things. I think it will work OK for the communities that are in on the politics associated with it,” Fee said. “The money generated will be earmarked for larger cities and townships, or the connected ones, and the outlying ones will be left out.”

The COG’s first project worked out well for Niles, Mayor Steve Mientkiewicz said.

The city paid $20,000 for the April demolition of the former Garfield Elementary School through the COG. Built in 1905 off West Third Street and labeled a nuisance attracting vandals and illegal dumping for more than a decade, the demolition could have cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, Mientkiewicz said.

“It was a great deal and we couldn’t have done it without the COG. A similar-size school building in Cortland was demolished for around $600,000. We want to use the COG for shared services to save taxpayer dollars and continue demolition to eliminate blight in the city,” Mientkiewicz said.

Bazetta Trustee Ted Webb said it cost about $600,000 to demolish the former Bazetta Elementary School in the Lakeview School District.

It is estimated by Mientkiewicz and James LaPolla, a Howland trustee and the COG’s chairman, that going through the COG saved the city $200,000.

While the city had to reimburse the COG for labor, fuel and material disposal, equipment owned by the Trumbull County Engineer’s Office was used to accomplish the demolition.

Champion trustees didn’t stay in the COG long enough to reap the benefits and never asked for assistance on a specific project, LaPolla said.

“If you don’t ask, you don’t get,” LaPolla said at Wednesday’s COG meeting in Howland.

Webb, Vernon Trustee Walt Emerick and Farmington Trustee John Dale echoed the sentiment.

“If you don’t submit a project, we can’t act on it,” Webb said at a COG meeting Wednesday in Howland.

“If the small guys need something, they have to ask,” Emerick said.

The next proposed COG project is a home demolition in Farmington, discussed by the present members Wednesday.

“The Farmington project is a project showing that the smaller townships can benefit like the cities and larger townships,” LaPolla said.

They are also working on a shared program for fire department equipment testing, creating a larger health insurance pool to share among its members’ employees and acquiring a driving training simulator to share, according to the discussion at the meeting. Participating communities can already fill out forms allowing them to borrow equipment from other member communities.

Hubbard Township Trustee Tom Jacobs inquired into getting homes in the township torn down through the COG too.

While Trumbull Neighborhood Partnership tears down residential homes acquired through the land bank, it cannot tear down commercial properties or properties it doesn’t own.

TNP has not yet been involved in any of the projects.

LaPolla acknowledged the COG came on strong last year without a track record to prove its worth when it tried to rally support for an increase in the Trumbull County sales tax to fund projects.

But as the COG picks up steam, he said he thinks people will begin to trust it as they accomplish more.

“Niles was the learning curve project,” LaPolla said.

The COG is considering implementing a project application fee for the community applying for a COG-sponsored project and is considering asking participating communities to pay for several years membership upfront in order to shore up resources.

The COG ended the month of June with about $7,000 in the bank, from dues collected from its city, townships and village members in 2018 and 2019. The communities pay between $100 and $300 per year depending on their population. It has around 20 members.

The sales tax in Trumbull County is 6.75 percent. One percent of the money goes to Trumbull County and the rest to the state. LaPolla said last year the COG wanted the Trumbull County commissioners to raise the tax to 7.25 percent, promising half of what the new amount raises to the COG, about $3 million per year.

Fee said he isn’t behind raising taxes on the public for the COG and doesn’t think commissioners should raise taxes on their constituents just to send it to an organization without having any oversight role.

Emerick said the state keeps bleeding money from local government funds and they must find creative ways to save every penny.

“Our general fund is only $78,000,” Emerick said. “For us, for the money we might be able to save over time, joining the COG and staying in the COG is a no-brainer.”