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LOCAL VOICES: One government for Erie County

Commentary • Mar 23, 2010 at 6:24 PM

By JIM SPENCER, former city editor, Sandusky Register

There has been a considerable amount of printers ink spilled over recent decisions reached at Sandusky city hall and at the county building.

I am convinced the real issue boils down to trust; most area residents do not trust most of the people holding public office. Given what has been going on over time, who can blame the voters?

We can no longer survive under the thumb of the Good Old Boys politics that continues to hold the reigns of power. But sitting on our widening backsides and carping won't produce the kind of future all of us seek.

What do I propose?

We need to create a single governmental unit within Erie County. What I advocate -- and it might well require some changes in Ohio law -- is a single elected executive; a single elected legislative body; a single set of rules and regulations.

This would likely mean one police department, one fire department, one water and sewer operation and one of everything else. It would also ensure every one knows who is responsible when things go right or go wrong.

Exploration of the first question will surely produce additional questions, all of which need to be asked and answered.

I have seen this approach work.

Today we have too many ego-driven officials who are more concerned with "turf" than with moving ahead to ensure a better tomorrow. Ample evidence of this thinking can be found in only a few recent decisions.

Sandusky officialdom has needlessly spent who knows how much money on a series of poorly thought through schemes to re-do the city's waterfront. Other than the renovating of an old factory which may never realize its claimed potential as a shining condominium structure and to ramble on about creating a transient marina that is not needed, nothing, fortunately, has transpired. Numerous studies over the years have found that residential units -- condos or houses -- do not pay as much in taxes as they consume in services.

Result? No benefit to taxpayers.

The county, Sandusky and several townships have been haggling for months over how to put together a recycling program.

Result? No benefit to taxpayers.

Sandusky taxpayers recently learned a former city commissioner and city manager signed off on a sweetheart deal for one of the unions which represent municipal workers.

Result? No benefit to taxpayers.

All of us would like to see business and jobs grow again in Erie County. Yet any company wanting to locate here has to jump through hoops largely designed to make the process more difficult, rather than easier.

Recently, a firm proposed to build a multi-million-dollar sports complex in Huron Township. The developer was given the cold shoulder, but found a welcoming hug across Milan Road in Perkins Township. The project will benefit the entire area, but why put someone who wants to invest several million dollars though such a process?

There is talk of the federal government pouring several hundred million dollars into creation of an airfield at NASA Plum Brook Station. Does anyone believe this is going to happen so long as the current political class is running things?

No governmental unit in the area is flush with cash these days. Every politician screams "we can't afford to" whenever any question requiring money is raised. Creating the single governmental unit I am suggesting probably would not provide an immediate huge windfall in savings -- but going forward without any changes is only guaranteed to raise everyone's tax bill.

Consider the condition of the various fire departments across Erie County. With the possible exception of Huron, there is not one department adequately staffed. Neither Sandusky nor Perkins Township -- where the bulk of the population and commercial activity is located -- provide an adequate initial response. One man driving a fire engine that cost taxpayers $500,000 -- or more -- to a fire is a joke; a minimum of three fire fighters are required to operate each engine. If that size crew isn't arriving at the same time as the fire engine, the rig is nothing more than an expensive taxi.

Only the politicians care what the lettering on the door of the fire engine says when it arrives. The people we rely upon to protect our lives and property certainly do not.

There has been a considerable hue and cry from both ends of the political spectrum in recent years over the manner in which the federal, state, county and local units of government have seemingly adopted the philosophy that simply throwing money at any problem will lead to its solution. It hasn't worked and never will.

No family decides to buy a car, a television set, clothing, a house or anything else based on the approach government officials have embraced. Sadly we have lost the most important basis for decision making: Common sense.

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