Presented with support from:

GAR Foundation

By WKSU's Kevin Niedermier

Wednesday, March 1, 2006

A recent report shows many of the nation's suburbs are not doing well. The problems of stagnant housing values and rising poverty are particulary serious in communities surrounding Cleveland according to the Brookings Institute study. But the findings are not news to suburban mayors. In part 5 of WKSU's series, "Beyond the Limits: The Regional View," Kevin Niedermier examines the growing wave of cooperation forming in the wake of economic stagnation.

     


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Emergency dispatch veteran Nick Pishnery is coordinating the set-up of the West Shore Dispatch Center. When operations begin March 30th, it will serve Bay Village, Fairview Park, Rocky River and Westlake.


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The soon to be completed West Shore Dispatch Center at St. John West Shore Hospital.


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Dispatcher Terry Stricker at one of the West Shore Dispatch Center's consoles.


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Three groups of Cuyahoga County suburbs working together on regional projects.
((Map courtesy of Cuyahoga County))

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Long standing political and psychological barriers are falling as communities
search for ways to do more with less. For many suburbs, the decades of closely guarding their resources is giving way to sharing. In one part of Cuyahoga County, the cities of Parma, Berea, Middleburg Heights, Brook Park and Parma Heights, are studying a plan for combining their fire departments. The goal is to increase efficiency among the contiguous communities and to save money.

Zonotti: "I think once the first district is created, there will be numerous districts."

Parma Heights Mayor, Marty Zonotti. He is also co-chair of the Cuyahoga County Mayors and Managers Association.

Zonotti: "In the last year since we started, a significant number of the 57 mayors involved have said, 'Let's get involved in this and see if it works and put our own little districts together.' So I think that's the first thing that happens. You're seeing other pockets of things happening. You're seeing school systems in cities getting together to build recreation centers. I think you'll continue to see those types of things happen."

Currently, officials in South Euclid, Lyndhurst and Richmond Heights are considering a joint community recreation center. Fire department consolidation talks are underway in Summit County between Macedonia, Northfield, Sagamore Hills and Northfield Center Township. Later this month, four Westside Cleveland suburbs will switch from individual fire and EMS dispatch units to a combined system. Nick Pishnery is directing the operation being setup inside St. John West Shore Hospital in Westlake. He's a veteran emergency dispatch director and says this type of joint system is nothing new.

Pishnery: "Cleveland Heights, Shaker Heights, University Heights has been doing it since 1982. They decided, I think, about 2002 - 2003, to do the same thing over here. This is the big push now, to regionalize fire department dispatches to start with, and if it develops beyond that, we don't know. But yeah, it's regionalism, it saves money. Right now in those four cities that we're covering, you have firemen dispatching. So it takes a fireman off the street, and you have four firemen doing what we will essentially do with two people."

Niedermier: " So this will be a pretty busy place on any given day. How many calls will you get?"

Pishnery: "With the four cities they will do approximately 10,000 fire runs a year."

The West Shore Center Dispatch Center includes Bay Village, Fairview Park, Rocky River and Westlake. Pishnery says the facility has room to expand, and other adjacent suburbs are considering joining up. Much of the start-up cost is funded through a Homeland Security grant. The annual budget is about 700-thousand dollars a year. What each city pays to be part of the system is established through a formula that includes the estimated number of emergency calls it will generate. The actual financial savings for each city has yet to be determined. Pishnery says the immediate benefit is relieving firemen from dispatching duties, so they can fight fires. This idea of combining city services is supported by most citizens. Bob Swanson lives in Westlake.

Swanson: "I do think that whenever you tell people there is going to be a tax savings, or there's a potential to save dollars, people are certainly willing to listen. And I just think we need to think of some way to be more efficient about our government in general because we have all these governments dotted around, and they're all costing us, the taxpayers, money."

This softening of once resistant borders could lead to bigger changes in the distant future, according to Parma Heights Mayor Marty Zonotti.

Zonotti: "It could lead to, way down the road, less number of cities in Cuyahoga County, a natural overflow of this may be to just reduce the number of cities.
Parma Heights is surrounded on 75% of its borders by Parma. If there came a point in time in our history where it was no longer economically feasible to sustain ourselves, that would be an option we would take a look at. But I think that would be the battle people would really try to resist, and I understand it and agree with it. I think by starting with things like fire districts we build the ground for that."

At this point, there are no serious city consolidation talks underway in Northeast Ohio. Though many people believe the severely troubled Cleveland suburb of East Cleveland is good candidate for a take over. Meanwhile, besides combining city services, the Cuyahoga County Mayors and Managers Association is working on other ways to stop the economic slide. Members of the group have vowed not to poach existing businesses from one community to another. Another idea is to develop a land bank to attract new businesses and share the tax revenues generated. Zonotti says the key is to work as a team on business development.

Zonotti: "Some cities have more opportunities to bring them in. I think what we would like to be able to do is bring the business to the table, and then pick the best place for them to be regardless of the jurisdictional boundaries because bringing more tax dollars to the area is what we need. And we can share. If a business in Parma Heights wants to expand and we need to move it to Parma to do it, we need to share in that revenue so that we all benefit from it, not fight over which way it will go."

As the region continues losing jobs and tax dollars, Zonotti believes the will to share will grow. He says one of the biggest obstacles is getting all the Northeast Ohio groups that are working on similar regional programs on the same page. I'm Kevin Niedermier...89-7 WKSU.