The Big 6

Share

6a00d83527e90e69e2012875fcb34c970c-320piWhen I ran for mayor of Warren in 2015, I knocked on hundreds of doors in all parts of the city. When I was lucky enough to find someone home I always asked the same question: “What, in your opinion, are the biggest problems facing the city?”

And in all the hundreds of conversations I had with Warren residents, there were only six responses to that question: “Roads, Blight, Crime, Drugs, Schools and Jobs.” Just those six things. Never a seventh.

I felt then, and continue to feel, that these are not six separate problems. Rather, these are six symptoms of one big problem, which is the lack of growth in Warren for more than 40 years. “Lack of growth” is actually an understatement; what we have experienced is a steady, long-term, shrinking of our city. Fewer jobs led to fewer people, which led to more crime and drug use, and more and more vacant houses, more blight and less money for all city services including road repairs and school budgets.

Without growth, and with tremendous effort and luck we might be able to fix one or two of the Big 6 problems, but it will always be like pushing a boulder up a steep hill. And just like King Sisyphus we are bound to watch that boulder role back down on ourselves time after time.

Therefore, finding a way to restore growth to Warren is not just our biggest problem, we must treat it as our only problem. We must find a path to growth if Warren is to have a future any of us would wish for. And there isn’t much time because, contrary to what many people believe, the pace of decline in Warren is actually increasing.

These statements may sound bombastic to you, therefore over the next few weeks I plan to conclusively demonstrate the scope of the problem here on Warren Expressed. I’ll be using charts generated from U.S. Census Department data and other sources to make the case. The data is compelling.

Many of us are like the frog floating happily in warm water inside a big pot, unaware that the flame under the pot is slowly being raised to the boiling point. The frog’s world is headed for an unhappy ending but he fails to notice it because the heat increase is so gradual.

It’s similar for us in Warren. One more company leaves, a couple more vacant houses appear down the block, a few more pot holes to dodge on your way home. We’ve become used to it.

I don’t know when the tipping point, after which recovery is not possible, will occur — but there is one. We must address and solve this existential problem or accept that in 20 years the only working stop light in Warren may be blinking forlornly at the corner of Park and Market.

Comments Off on The Big 6

TNP changes lives

Share

I’ve written extensively about Trumbull Neighborhood Partnership. They’ve held Warren together these past six years, and have brought more money into the city to fight blight than everyone else combined. What hasn’t been written about much, however, is the effect their work has had on people — not just buildings and neighborhoods. Reporter Alan Bell of the Tribune did a nice job of showing this side of TNP the other day, telling the story through one man’s experience.

That man’s experience was with TNP’s Nick Bellas, who works directly with dozens of Warren citizens every year; many of them learn their first job skills (and sometimes their first “life skills”) from Nick, who makes Warren a better place to live every day.

The Tribune article is reprinted below with their permission.

030117...R COMM SERVICE 1...Warren...03-01-17...Nicholas Vecchiarelli of Hubbard, a success story with the Community Service Sentencing Program, loads a tire onto a trailer from a vacant lot in Warren Wednesday morning...by R. Michael Semple

R. Michael Semple

Community service has changed life, man says

MAR 5, 2017

ALAN R. BELL

WARREN — In 2013, police found Nicholas Vecchiarelli pacing in his driveway, holding a police scanner and a green laser light. It was the laser that minutes earlier “lit up” a news helicopter from Cleveland that had flown over to cover area high school football games. Vecchiarelli, 49, of Hubbard, surrendered peacefully. He pleaded guilty to a second-degree felony charge.

“My father had recently passed away and I was drinking a lot at that time,” Vecchiarelli said. “I was kind of lost without him. I wasn’t sober. My mom told me that I couldn’t drink him back.”Trumbull County Common Pleas Court Judge Ronald Rice fined Vecchiarelli $1,000 and sentenced him to five years of probation for interfering with the operators of an aircraft with a laser. He was also ordered to perform 200 hours of community service, given an 11 p.m. curfew, and ordered to stay out of liquor establishments. Vecchiarelli says he’s been sober since.

It was while working off his community service that Vecchiarelli found someone who could restore direction in his life — Nick Bellas, the court-ordered community service supervisor for Trumbull Neighborhood Partnership.

Vecchiarelli said his first thought when he began community service was, “I never want to see that man again. He’s scary.”

But then . . . “What he (Bellas) does for Trumbull Neighborhood Partnership, and the discipline and principles of hard work he demands helped me see and repent the error of my ways,”Vecchiarelli said. “I learned my lesson. He helped me through the court system. He actually goes to court with people.

“He has such passion for the city. I really didn’t want to quit going. He brought the goodness out of me,” Vecchiarelli said.

Before the TNP job, Bellas worked as an attendance officer for Warren City Schools, as a part-time police officer in Bazetta and in Howland, and with Trumbull County Children Services. He also was a U.S. Coast Guard reservist.

Bellas said, “Nick was one of the more enthusiastic participants in the program. I think Nick is a personable guy. I think he is genuine in what he says, and I appreciate that.”

Bellas said there were only a couple of times when he had to reel Vecchiarelli back into the tasks at hand. Once, Vecchiarelli wandered off to a fast-food establishment when he should have been at the site.

“Unlike some participants I have had, Nick was pretty reliable,” Bellas said. “He had a lot of energy. He could complete most tasks without being asked twice.”

TNP, which revitalizes and demolishes derelict properties in Trumbull County, is among several local agencies that work with the community service sentencing program. Others in Trumbull County include the Animal Welfare League of Trumbull County, Goodwill Industries, the United Way of Trumbull County, the Warren Family Mission and Trumbull County MetroParks.

“The Court Community Service Program is one of our most long-standing programs. It allows us to engage residents that have minor legal troubles in productive and impactful efforts to improve their neighborhoods,” said Matt Martin, executive director.

Jeff Hovanic, bailiff for Warren Municipal Court Judge Thomas P. Gysegem, said, “This program has provided the court’s judges an alternative to costly incarceration, for those defendants that qualify, to perform community service in lieu of jail time.

Said Bellas, “It’s a good job. A lot of tangible things come out of this job. The best part is that the program makes a difference. We can help out.”

“The court is giving them an opportunity to avoid jail or take care of some of the fines and costs. They are actually doing very tangible things for the community they live in,” Bellas said.

Vecchiarelli said he was offered community service as an alternative to an eight-year prison term because it was his first major offense.

“I was outside in the back (with the laser light he said he’d just bought). I was flashing it around and goofing off.”

The camera operator in the helicopter told police he saw the green laser several times as it flew over the Hubbard area. Vecchiarelli said he didn’t realize he was being reckless because the helicopter was so far away, but “when I was arrested, I realized I did something bad. I was honest. I did something while goofing off, something stupid, and there were repercussions.”

Vecchiarelli was not employed during his community service stint. At the beginning, he would do his service for half a day. Near the end, he committed to an eight-hour shift. He worked an additional 50 hours of community service to work off his fines and costs from the case, Bellas said.

“I did it in like a month and half,” Vecchiarelli said.

Last year, Bellas and his groups picked up 1,064 tires from front yards of vacant properties in Warren. He has about 20 people assigned to him.

“Some are doing the work, some haven’t started yet. I try to be flexible with people with work and school. But if hey are unemployed, I try to get their sentence requirements done at a faster pace,” he said.

Most of the tires are stored in a vacant house on Elm Road NE until they can be disposed of properly.

news@tribtoday.com

Comments Off on TNP changes lives

Budget and tax increase update

Share

20150305__20150306_A4_CD05POTHOLESp2


There was a joint Finance committee/Citizens Oversight committee meeting with City Council yesterday. Here are a few updates:

  • January General Fund revenues were $84,000 greater than expenses. Total carryover is about $300,000.
  • The closing of the Kellogg distribution center will cost the city $50,000 in lost taxes this year.
  • A change in the way the state collects business taxes will cost us another $16,000.
  • GM closing for 3 weeks will also have a negative affect but the number is not known at this time.
  • The city’s payment records for 2016 are now online at ohiocheckbook.com. 2015 will be added soon. You can search to see all payments made by the city to any entity.

As for progress made relating to the use of the tax increase:

  • Both the police and fire departments are a little behind the curve on hiring the addition staff promised. This is due to the limited number of people who have taken the Civil Service exam and qualified for the positions. Another test will be held March 4th, and more people signed up this time. The administration seems confident that they will hit their targets this year, but they intend to be selective and not just hire anyone who happens to pass the test. “We are moving with all deliberate speed, but our top priority is to hire good people,” said Mayor Franklin.

The longest discussion related to street repair. The city has budgeted $500,000 for street repair in 2017. There is normally no budget at all for this out of the General Fund. A couple of years ago the bond issue raised $2.5 million for repairs, but that has all been spent.

City Engineer Paul Makosky said he is able to get all the city’s main thoroughfares maintained using a combination of state and federal funds, but most of Warren’s other 185 miles of streets have had no regular repair budget for some time.

Makosky says those streets need to be resurfaced every 15 years, and to do so requires an annual expenditure of about $1 million at an estimated cost of about $175,000 per mile per 2 lane street. So the half million is clearly not enough to do what is needed.

Makosky will give the Mayor a list of the streets most in need of work by the end of this month. The Mayor will make the final decision on which streets get attention. Many streets in clear need of work will not make the cut. The Mayor specifically promised to work on the list based on need, but said some adjustments will be made based on the population and/or the traffic of a given street.

There followed a pretty funny exchange among council members about whether Makosky would be using “west side asphalt or east side asphalt” — an inside joke born of someone complaining at council a few years ago that the city uses an inferior grade of asphalt to fill west side potholes. Makosky assured everyone that the city only buys one grade — the best available.

For anyone who wants a deeper understanding of the cost and issues surrounding street repairs in Warren, Makosky has prepared a “Street Resurfacing and Maintenance Program Financial Planning Report.” It’s an inch thick and filled with charts, maps, photos and details. It is too costly to pass out to anyone who wants one, but Makosky is hoping to get it on line soon, or you can visit the engineer’s office at 540 Laird S.E., and examine a copy there.

Finally, the last whole ten minutes was devoted to the topic of economic development, because, of course, it is our last priority given how strong the local economy is today. As always the conversation focused on “solutions,” since it is our practice to skip over any discussion of the nature of the problem or the setting of goals, which many organizations find useful to discuss prior to identifying a solution.

Some days I am low on hope.

Comments Off on Budget and tax increase update

Warren Homecoming returns!

Share
Warren Homecoming
to Repeat in 2017
Weekend of September 22-25
 
Warren, OH February 7, 2017

The Trumbull County Fine Arts Council (FACT) announces today that the highly successful Warren Homecoming, held for the first time last September, will be back again this year.
 
The dates will be September 22-25, 2017.
 
“Warren Homecoming was a huge success last year. There were more than 30 events during t he weekend, and large crowds converged on Warren, including many who returned to  Warren for the weekend. The whole city got into the spirit of Homecoming, and we are very  happy to be the organizing sponsor again for 2017,” said James Shuttic, FACT Chairman.
Warren Homecoming will be comprised of events organized and hosted by individual  organizations. A Homecoming committee, overseen by FACT, will coordinate and assist t hese individual organizations, but their principal job will be to promote the weekend as  a whole.”Many of the groups participating in Warren Homecoming operate on very small budgets that do not allow for much promotion or advertising. By raising funds for an overall marketing campaign for the weekend, we are able to promote in ways that would not otherwise be possible,” added Shuttic.
The two largest 2016 events will both repeat this year. The hugely popular  “Taste of Warren” will again provide the Big Top under which everyone will have a chance to sample Warren’s  iconic foods in one, highly-social location. “Taste of Warren” will again be sponsored by the Trumbull 100Diane Sauer Chevrolet and the Tribune Chronicle.
Trumbull 100 President Jordan Taylor said: “We were thrilled to be part of the first Warren  Homecoming as a sponsor of the Taste of Warren event. It was great seeing the community  come together to put on a weekend full of events that reconnected people to Warren. We are looking forward to participating in Warren Homecoming again this year.”
Another repeating event will be the “NFL Legends of Warren Reunion” sponsored by the  Warren Gridiron Club. This is actually several events over the weekend, including Sunday’s  “Legend’s Celebration Dinner,” and Monday’s “Legends” golf outing. “Last year’s NFL Legends weekend was the most successful fund-raising event in the Gridiron Club’s long history,” says club President Virginia Holmes, “and that was because of the support of the community and our decision to move it to Warren Homecoming weekend, which significantly boosted attendance. We have some new surprises in store for 2017 and we look forward to continuing our relationship with Warren Homecoming.”
Another 2016 sponsor, the Warren Area Board of Realtors is also looking forward to this year.  Said WABOR President-elect Darlene Mink-Crouse, “Last year was such a successful and  enjoyable event, we are really looking forward to another opportunity to showcase Warren’s  many beautiful homes to both residents and visitors.”
For those wishing to keep track of progress on our many activities, please “like” us on  Facebook, where we can be found by searching “Warren Homecoming 2017.” If you are  interested in participating in Homecoming as an event sponsor, please contact Julia Shuttic at
FACT at either (330) 883-6489 or jastaj7@gmail.com.

The Fine Arts Council of Trumbull County (FACT) was established in 1971 when six community organizations recognized the need for mutual support & coordination of the arts and cultural organizations.
 Our mission is “to improve the quality of life in Trumbull County, by fostering the arts.” FACT receives funding through corporate, foundation and individual donations.
Comments Off on Warren Homecoming returns!

The battle explained

Share

Last week I promised to boil down the fight over transferring Enterprise Funds to Community Development in under 500 words. Here it is below in about 400. It will take two minutes to read this version, but the non-linear, opaque way the city government addressed the problem generated countless hours of non-productive arguing and general agita. I still don’t think most of Council understands what CD does.

Mike Keys and his Community Development staff of four people, administer the CBBG and HOME grants received annually from HUD. In addition, they preform various services for the city that HUD characterizes as “economic development (ED).”

From those grants they are permitted to use up to 25% for administrative costs, which is how the five salaries and related expenses are paid. The value of the CDBG grants dropped from $1.655 million in 2001, to $1.044 last year. This means they lost about $150,000 of their support funding over that period, which had already forced them to reduce head count by two people.

The latest funding reductions would require finding alternative funding, or a reduction of an addition two head count. If head count was to be reduced, some of CD’s activities would have to be scaled back; either they would support fewer local non-profit organizations with CDBG money, or the departments economic development activities would have to be curtailed.

The administration did not want to do either, and suggested transferring Enterprise Fund (EP) money to CD so that they could continue doing both. They received a legal opinion that they felt gave them the authority to transfer the money.

Several members of City Council were very much opposed to reducing the number of non-profits receiving funds, and would never support that option. The administration did not want to give up the ED support and never made that an option.

No one on City Council or the administration attempted to examine the tasks on CD’s plate with the idea of using a scalpel rather than a meat clever to reorganize their duties.

The administration asked for a transfer of $233,000, the maximum their outside advisors felt they could request in EP funds, but never publicly mentioned that they were only likely to use half of those funds for CD work and planned to return the rest, which might have at least softened the opposition a bit.

The budget passed the last week in December by a vote of 7-3, although it was closer than that, with two Council members switching sides at the last moment.

16174854_1394379223919793_2500420396501166767_nThe fight over all of this took place over the course of at least six months, and spilled into February, when City Council got a two hour presentation of CD’s duties — only a month or so after the horse had already left the barn.

If someone from the administration had calmly explained it all this way back in June we could have saved a lot of trouble. Mr. Keys would probably say that he did just that, but the important story was wrapped in so many layers of political swaddling, that the core message never got through.

(On the other hand, if they had then maybe Josh would never have created some of his most entertaining memes, like the one above, which I reprint because Mike has a sense of humor.)

My next post will attempt to describe the type of economic development work being done by CD, and explain why it probably isn’t what you think of as economic development work.

Comments Off on The battle explained