Trumbull Commissioners OK Voting Center, Legal Review of Joining WRTA

WARREN, Ohio – The Trumbull County Board of Elections will begin work immediately on preparing the former Chase Bank building to serve as an in-person voting center for the upcoming election. 

The Trumbull County Board of Commissioners voted Wednesday to lease the building, 2911 Youngstown Road N.E., from today through Nov. 15. The county will pay $5,600 – inclusive of utilities – to lease the building, owned by Warren businessman Ken Haidaris.   

“They gave us a pretty reasonable price for three months,” Trumbull County Commissioner Frank Fuda said. “It’s going to work out real well for us.” 

The county needed an alternative to allowing early voting at its offices, where early voting normally is conducted, to comply with social distancing requirements in place because of the coronavirus pandemic, said Stephanie Penrose, county elections director. 

“There’s no social distancing here whatsoever. It’s impossible,” Penrose said. Along with the single long counter that affords insufficient space for distancing, the board office has a single access door available to the public. 

Chase closed the branch at the corner of U.S. Route 422 and Central Parkway Avenue SE about five years ago, leaving only an ATM that it removed last year, said Dan Crouse, a broker with Platz Realty Group. 

“We knew they needed space for people for walk-in voting,” he said. “We approached them, they approached us – it was kind of a mutual thing.” The agreement was put together within the past two days, Crouse added.

“The whole thing came down to what they say in real estate: location, location, location,” Penrose said. 

Voting stations will be in the lobby, Penrose said, and voters will sign in at the teller windows. Separate doors for entering and exiting are also available.

The elections board will take over the building immediately, she said. It won’t be used by the public until Oct. 6, when early voting begins, but a lot needs to be done to get it ready before then. She is considering a suggestion by the Ohio Secretary of State for a low-cost barrier between the public and workers using PVC tubes and window film. 

“It’s a lot less expensive than Plexiglass and it’s a lot more accessible,’” she said. 

Platz Realty is in contact with two or three parties that have expressed interest in the building when the board of elections is finished using it, Crouse said. Penrose hasn’t ruled out further use of the property. 

“It’s something that we may talk to the commissioners about, but right now our biggest goal is to get in here as quickly as possible,” she said.  

Also at Wednesday’s meeting, commissions approved a resolution to explore joining the Western Reserve Transit Authority, which already provides limited services in Trumbull County. The resolution authorizes legal teams representing WRTA and the commissioners to gather information and determine what steps are necessary for the county to become a full member of the Mahoning County-based transit authority.  

“It’s an exciting time for Trumbull County,” said Dean Harris, WRTA’s executive director. The possibilities that a comprehensive regional transportation system presents are a topic that he and the commissioners have discussed for a long time, he said. 

“It’s very important,” Fuda said. 

WRTA already provides transportation to individuals who reside in one county and work in the other, he said. It could provide a means of transportation for people seeking jobs at the General Motors-LG Chem battery plant or Lordstown Motors Corp. who lack other means of transportation.  

When county officials talk with economic development partners, it would be “one of those tools in the tool box,” Commissioner Mauro Cantalamessa said. In addition, it could provide access to grocery stores to people in the county who don’t have a store in their community. 

The next step is to work with attorneys representing Mahoning and Trumbull counties and the city of Youngstown to develop a new authorizing resolution to permit Trumbull County to join, which could be accomplished by year’s end, Harris said. WRTA also will work with a consultant to develop “a high-level draft plan” of what service might look like, he said. 

A Trumbull County levy to help fund the service could potentially go on the May 2021 ballot, Harris said, and new routes could begin the following September.

In addition to Lordstown, public transportation advocate Niki Frenchko of Warren, a Trumbull County senior levy advisory council member, said she has received a lot of community feedback about routes to provide service to Hubbard and Brookfield, as well as potentially connecting into western Pennsylvania.   

Other potential destinations include Niles, Girard and expanded service in Liberty, Harris said. 

Pictured: The Trumbull County Commissioners approved leasing the former Chase Bank at the corner of U.S. Route 422 and Central Parkway Avenue SE to use as an additional in-person voting site for the upcoming election.

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