Effort to drop county transit administrator fails
WARREN — Commissioners Frank Fuda and Mauro Cantalamessa voted down Wednesday an effort by Commissioner Niki Frenchko to eliminate the position of transportation manager Mike Salamone.
She called him incompetent during the April 27 commissioners meeting for having the board approve a certification that was not required for the 2023 Ohio Department of Transportation grant application.
Frenchko sought to have the position eliminated after the three commissioners unanimously voted to rescind that portion of the April vote.
“This and four others were done prematurely,” Frenchko said as part of her reasoning for trying to eliminate the position. “The transportation administrator did not know what he was doing.”
She said Salamone went to the Western Reserve Transit Authority for assistance in writing the ODOT grant.
Adding Salamone is earning nearly $140,000 per year (with benefits) as the transportation administrator for a board that no longer exists, Frenchko said he should not have to seek assistance in filling out a grant application.
Frenchko emphasized the only transportation being provided in the county today is what is being provided by WRTA.
“For the amount of work that Mr. Salamone is doing, we could hire a consultant,” Frenchko said. “He’s been promoting a lack of transparency that the other commissioners accept by voting yes on things the public hasn’t seen.”
Frenchko argues no general public rides are being provided by the county at this time.
“There is senior and disabled trips, largely handled by funds from the Trumbull County senior levy,” she said.
Salamone, who was not at the commissioners meeting Wednesday, explained some of the processes in the ODOT grant application have changed from what was required in previous grant applications, including having five attachments that he believed needed to be filled out as part of the grant.
Due to the short application time period, Salamone said he filled out all of the attachments ahead of time and provided them to the commissioners to have them vote on them.
“I knew if any one of the attachments were not needed, the commissioners would be able to rescind the item in a later vote,” Salamone said.
The ODOT grant for which Salomone applied would provide the county funds for two projects.
One project would provide the county $50,000 in funds to hire a mobility manager, according to Salomone. “The county would have to provide $10,000 in a local match. The second would provide $700,000 to operate a transportation system for senior and disabled citizens as well as the general public. The local match would be $770,000.”
Frenchko voted against passage of the five items during the April meeting, saying the commissioners should not vote to approve items until they are completed.
Salamone earns an annual salary of $89,000 per year, plus nearly $10,000 per year in housing costs and $39,000 per year in medical and other insurance as earned by other county employees.
“I voted against eliminating the position because transportation in Trumbull County has improved leaps and bounds over where it was two years ago,” Cantalamessa said. “We are transitioning to finding new funds to pay for transportation in the county. That is what he was charged to do.”
“We are about to unveil a new system that will provide door-to-door service, which is needed in this community … It will provide between 50,000 and 60,000 rides a year, without asking our taxpayers to pay additional money,” he noted.
Cantalamessa noted the commissioners will be able to use some of the county’s American Rescue Plan funds to provide some financial assistance in getting the new program started.
He noted Frenchko has been supportive of the county joining WRTA, which would require the passage of a tax to support it.
“I do not believe right now is the time to ask for a tax increase to subsidize transportation,” Cantalamessa said. “This proposal will provide targeted public transportation that is needed in the county.”
Fuda said he voted against eliminating the administrator position because he believes Salomone is doing the job he was hired to do.
“He is doing a great job,” Fuda said. “He has been doing it for years. We are not joining WRTA and paying $7 million a year for services. We have a better transportation plan in place where we can get some services without burdening citizens.”
Fuda said when Salamone provided the five items that were needed to be approved for the ODOT funding, he told them at the time one or more may have to be rescinded.
Cantalamessa said the transportation plan will be announced within the next couple of weeks.