YOUNGSTOWN — Republican Steve Kristan of Canfield, a political newcomer, is challenging two-term Mahoning County Commissioner David Ditzler in the fall election.
Ditzler, a Democrat, has been commissioner eight years and was an Austintown trustee 19 years while working nearly 30 years in sales for two steel companies.
Kristan is seeking public office for the first time after 35 years as director of external affairs for AT&T.
Ditzler said one of his greatest accomplishments as a commissioner was fixing county financial shortfalls when he first took office in 2013.
“When I got there eight years ago, they had taken a bond issue out for $2 million to pay a health care bill. I thought, ‘That’s like paying your electric bill with a Mastercard,’” he said.
The county had no carryover balance at the time, and the county’s health care bill was rising by $2 million per year. Employees were paying little of their health care costs, and there was too little money in the health care fund.
“So we started to work health care language into the contracts. We started to make sure everybody had buy-in on it,” Ditzler said. “Today, from all of the different things we’ve done … we’ve really been able to create a surplus in our health care plan — $14 million coming into this year.” He said the county has about 1,700 employees.
The county also is saving money in other areas. “This year, we carried over $16 million into the general fund,” which enabled the county to withstand the costs of the COVID-19 pandemic, he said.
When Kristan decided to run for commissioner, he met with several dozen community leaders to ask what they like most and least about the county.
“From that I put together my MVP — Mahoning County Vision Plan for 2025,” he said. “I see Mahoning County as we are on the cusp in the sense of making some changes and implementing some things or staying complacent and mediocre and eventually falling backwards. In my realm of business, you either keep moving forward or you fall back.
“I saw Mahoning County not moving forward and in some cases moving backwards. I’ve worked with counties all over northeast Ohio, and I’ve seen what some of the good ones do, what some of the mediocre ones do.”
Kristan said his first priority is expanding high speed internet — also known as broadband — for all residents because there are pockets of residents who do not have it.
The organization Connect Ohio said a few years ago that more than 30 percent of homes in Youngstown do not have internet even though it is available, Kristan said.
Teams of business, community and government leaders will be recruited to advise and direct a private-public partnership to design and implement the project, he said.
“It will help our population because if the technology is not available here, people will leave and go where it is available,” he said. “Students will have more online educational opportunities. Workers will benefit as they gain more opportunities to work remotely, and seniors will have increased access to tele-health services. In addition, it will potentially attract people to the area and grow our tax base.”
Ditzler said Mahoning County partnered with Ashtabula and Trumbull counties in an effort to improve broadband access by making it a utility and secured a $135,000 grant. The counties are waiting to receive proposals from companies interested in carrying it out.
Kristan said U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D- Howland, spoke recently in Boardman about the top three area projects, and they are all in Trumbull County.
“You get on Bailey Road at Interstate 76, and you see FedEx. You see green space. I like green space, but that’s all there is until you hit the (Trumbull) county line,” he said. “And then there is TJX, there’s Lordstown Motors, the battery plant. There’s power plant 1 and power plant 2.”
He said it “seems like we’re not getting our fair share” in Mahoning County.
In response, Ditzler said most people don’t understand what a county commissioner’s authority is.
People say “We should do this with the city (of Youngstown) or do that with the city. Well, there’s no county roads in the city. There’s no county things that impact the city that we can initiate,” he said.
Ditzler said he had a more authority when he was an Austintown trustee than he does now as commissioner in that a trustee can make changes to the police department or road department, but those functions are run by another elected official in county government.
He was able to help the Hollywood at Mahoning Valley racino in Austintown, however, when he became a county commissioner by creating tax-increment financing to help improve the infrastructure around the project and other areas.
He tried to create tax increment financing for the racino site when the Centerpointe business park project was being proposed there, but the county commissioners at the time blocked it. The tax-increment financing money is now being used to improve Meridian Road and 23 miles of roads through the county engineer’s office, Ditzler said.
He also is part of the Taxing Infrastructure District Board that secured $250,000 for planning and design of industrial areas in North Jackson, Ditzler said. The board can potentially secure additional money to improve infrastructure for companies such as PureFoods, Amazon, FedEx and Extrudex, he said.
David Ditzler (D)
EMPLOYMENT: Two terms as Mahoning County commissioner, 35 years in the steel industry, 19 years as Austintown Township trustee.
EDUCATION: Bachelor’s degree in business administration and associate degree in applied business, Youngstown State University.
Steve Kristan (R)
EMPLOYMENT: Retired AT&T director of external affairs 1984 to 2019, worked for Blue Cross two years and IBM two years.
EDUCATION: Boston College certificate in community and corporate relations; bachelor’s degree, Bowling Green State University.
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