May 25, 2010; Source: Youngstown Vindicator | The Mahoning Valley region of Ohio experienced the Great Recession long before the rest of us. Youngstown is the epicenter for the economic devastation that swept through Ohio’s oil steel manufacturing towns.

Once containing 170,000 residents, Youngstown has shrunk to a population of 80,000 and seems destined to shrink further, with plans to demolish scads of vacant buildings and consolidate underpopulated neighborhoods. But like many older cities, it is having trouble generating tax revenues to pay for basic services.

The cash-strapped city decided to wipe out all youth programs in the city budget and to close two swimming pools. The local nonprofit community action agency has stepped into the breach to offer $300,000 out of its state grants to pay for the opening of one of the pools and to absorb the cost of some summer youth recreation programs.

The CAP’s money will cover the cost of salaries for eight city workers and 17 to 20 summer lifeguards. In our estimation, this is a generous action on the part of the anti-poverty agency, consistent with its mission in the region, but it doesn’t address the deep budget problem that Youngstown will face after the summer. City officials realize that more hard decisions will be coming in September, unlikely to be remedied by sales of brownfield properties or sale-leasebacks of public buildings.—Rick Cohen