Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald wants to push regionalization forward, with the county making its services available to cities on a contract basis.
Speaking at the City Club for his second state of the county address, FitzGerald said Greater Cleveland cannot compete against other metropolitan areas with the inefficiencies that come with having functions performed by 59 different communities.
"It is self-evident that our current patchwork of individual kingdoms is powerless to execute any coordinated strategy to compete in a global economy," he said.
As part of his "Western Reserve Plan," FitzGerald proposed that the county start with computer services and eventually expand the level of services offered.
"The concept is simple and it's proven," he said. FitzGerald said the concept has already worked in regard to social services and the county Board of Health.
"Our cities here have home rule rights and nothing in this proposal abridges any of those rights," FitzGerald added.
So, will cities want to pay the county to provide services?
Cleveland Heights Mayor Ed Kelley said, "I think Ed gets the need of the cities to work together to come up with and do some things that will positively effect not just the financial bottom line, but to be able to deliver services to residents more efficiently and effectively."
Kelley added that FitzGerald could look at merging fire departments.
"Something that he can do tomorrow is merge fire departments. I've been trying to merge our fire department with Shaker, University Heights and possibly South Euclid. That would be one thing that I would possibly impress upon Ed FitzGerald to look into," he said.
Brecksville Council President Greg Skaljac didn't agree with the premise behind FitzGerald's plan.
"The suggestion that 'it is self-evident that our current patchwork of individual kingdoms is powerless to execute any kind of coordinated strategy to compete in a global economy' is not true in my opinion. Brecksville and many other communities are working together and sharing resources on many different levels such as purchasing consortiums, insurance, CERT, Southwest Council of Governments, fire and police equipment sharing and recreational and human services collaboration to name only a few."
He added that the plan seemed to be focused on helping the city of Cleveland.
"Suggesting that 'all of the suburbs are connected to it (downtown Cleveland), economically and culturally' is a pretty big leap in my opinion. At the end of the day, the people/voters of this county need to be the ones who indicate they want a metropolitan government. I was elected to do what’s in the best interests of the residents of Brecksville. If parts of this proposal are beneficial to Brecksville and its residents, then I am all for it – but it is way too early to make any of those conclusions," he said.
Still, Skaljac was interested in the potential for sharing IT services, although he thought it would be more difficult to get communities together on road or sewer repairs.
Mayor Bruce Rinker attended the state of the county address and was impressed with FitzGerald and his approach to moving the region forward.
"It's imperitative that the county needs to be an economic development engine," Rinker said.
Rinker added that he was skeptical when FitzGerald took office, but said he has backed up his words with actions and did what he said he was going to do.
Michael Summers, who was appointed Lakewood's mayor when FitzGerald was elected to the county position, said FitzGerald understands the need to eliminate government duplication.
"We have more duplication and redundancy than we can afford, and Ed would have that vantage point from his year in office that none of us would have from our mayoral offices," he said. "Gov. (John) Kasich has been saying a lot of the same things, but they have two different approaches. While Gov. Kasich has chosen to starve us into submission through deficit reductions, Ed has offered some real incentives to work together. As a mayor, I obviously prefer Ed Fitzgerald’s approach."
Strongsville Council President Mike Daymut said he'd be interested in sharing some services countywide.
"We're always open to anything we can do to be more efficient," Daymut said. "But we'd have to make sure we're not diminishing any services."
Strongsville would gladly look into sharing computer services, he said. But the decision gets a lot tougher when safety is involved, Daymut said, looking ahead to a time when a regional police or fire department is proposed.
"There are some things we'd be willing to sign on for," he said. "But as far as other areas, especially safety services, we'd have to take a hard look. We want to maintain our excellent police and fire service and our response times."
Solon Vice Mayor Ed Kraus said he's seen improvement in cooperation with county government and Solon has much to offer the county, especially its expertise in attracting and retaining companies to its industrial corridor.
"We're the best in the entire county at bringing in new companies and keeping them," Kraus said, adding that bringing more business to Cuyahoga will ultimately benefit Solon, since many companies will be interested in locating there.
But while cooperation is good, it has its limits. Kraus said Solon isn't interested in revenue sharing or giving up control of its own destiny.
"It would be silly for us to do that," he said.
Mayor Gregory Costabile said he's pleased that FitzGerald is reaching out to communities. He said although he's very protective of home rule, he's willing to talk about ways to work together to save money.
"Anytime there's any opportunity, we need to look and listen," he said.