As your state representative, it is my responsibility to examine all positions with respect to common challenges. One of these challenges continues to resonate with local leaders as well as those of us representing you in Columbus — the decision by ODOT to eliminate staffing from the Conneaut Information Center on I-90.
Certainly ODOT has been faced with budgetary constraints — just like our schools and our local governments — as a result of cuts from the state. One way to shrink operating costs is to eliminate positions through naturally occurring attrition, and this is precisely what ODOT is attempting to do with respect to the Conneaut Information Center. According to ODOT, no jobs are to be eliminated statewide. Rather, personnel are simply being transferred to other positions in the state as openings occur.
Nevertheless, even thought ODOT is struggling to operate on reduced income, Gov. Kasich has stated many times that Ohio’s economy is recovering. In fact, his proposed budget is over $7 billion greater than his first budget and is, without a doubt, the largest in our history.
For me, and several of my colleagues, it would only make sense to allocate $800,000 to the transportation budget to provide continued staffing for our state’s information centers. And here is why: Ashtabula County alone took in $380 million last year from tourism! This figure does not include Geauga, Lake, or Cuyahoga counties — and Conneaut is the gateway to all of tourism in Northeast Ohio.
My father, who was a chiropractor and, as such, a small business owner, told me once when I asked him why he was always updating his office, “Son, I must invest a portion of my profits back into the business, for reinvestment is crucial to long range sustainability of my practice.”
ODOT personnel assigned to the Conneaut information center is such a reinvestment in our county and our district. ODOT’s decision to eliminate staffing and replace the human touch with a rack holding literature mirrors the Ally Bank commercial in which a food blender seeks to replace a real person in a dry cleaning store — the customers are left in a state of disbelief, frustration, and alienation. De-personalization does not always lead to better service or increased profits.
Our attempt to restore funding for ODOT staffing failed in the House. Now that bill is being debated in the Senate before it returns to us. In the meantime, ODOT has contracted with a private firm (SFC Graphics) to provide “brochure distribution services.” And here is the rub: SFC will be charging any entity that wishes to place its brochure a minimum of $50 per month or $500 per year for the privilege of doing so. This is an increased cost to small businesses, historical sites, or even tourism bureaus — all the while the current administration claims to support such entities.
Rest assured that your office is reaching out to ODOT, to other elected officials, and will raise the issue once more on the House floor. I have not given up on this challenge — nor will I. We want visitors to be able to ask questions about Conneaut, our county, and our district at the information center. We want authentic human interaction there. We want to share the beauty and opportunity of our corner of the state. And it is that intense commitment which drives this office to stand up for you.