As Summit County winds down COVID-19 response, Executive Ilene Shapiro outlines future spending priorities


Summit County is embarking on some of its biggest investments in the county’s history – prioritizing spending to close gaps in broadband access and to improve communications across all 31 municipalities.

In her first State of the County speech in three years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, County Executive Ilene Shapiro highlighted some of these investments to a crowd of several hundred people at the John S. Knight Center in Downtown Akron Wednesday.

Summit County received $94 million in federal CARES Act funds during the COVID-19 pandemic and, later, $104 million from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), Shapiro said.

Coronavirus relief funds were primarily allocated directly to municipalities as well as support for small businesses and rental assistance, Shapiro said.

Now, as the response to the COVID-19 pandemic winds down, the county is looking ahead to some innovative projects, she said.

“We immediately began to look at how we could use those funds in a transformational way. We needed to transition our thinking from being tactical to becoming strategic,” Shapiro said.

One multi-million-dollar plan — funded heavily from the county’s ARPA allocation — is intended to connect the various municipalities and eventually offer affordable Internet access to residents, she said.

The project, called “Summit Connects,” would consist of a 125-mile fiber optic ring connecting Summit County and all of its 31 city, village and township governments, as well as a central data center, Shapiro said. The preliminary goal is to provide local governments with a high-speed, affordable and reliable broadband platform.

Once that is operational, officials hope to eventually partner with private providers to offer the same access to homes, businesses and schools, Shapiro said.

“It makes us able to get to our goal around affordability and access, because that is a challenge for many of those [internet service providers]. They’re not in a lot of neighborhoods; it’s just not a good business model for them,” Shapiro said. “Working with us, we will hope to work through that process.”

According to Broadband Ohio, 11% of Summit County’s geographic area lacks access to the minimum levels of upload and download speeds, county officials said.

Initial estimates projected Summit Connects will cost $70 million — with $35 million from ARPA and $22 million from the County General Capital Improvement Fund, officials said. Construction on the data center and fiber ring should be completed by 2026, Shapiro added.

The county is also looking into rolling out an LTE service, a cellular access network, that could help improve access in the meantime, she said.

“It’s going to take a couple of years to build this, and so we are looking at a short-term fix … that may be able to give people some more access at a very reasonable cost, but it’s not full broadband and Internet,” Shapiro said.

Officials are working with several cities, particularly in underserved areas, to pilot the service, she added.








Anna Huntsman


Ideastream Public Media

Summit County Executive Ilene Shapiro (left), Summit County Council Vice President Veronica Sims (center), and Public Health Commissioner Donna Skoda (right) take pictures together following Shapiro’s 2022 State of the County address on Oct. 19, 2022.

Inflation causing residents, businesses, county services to adjust

Although the county spent $16.7 million in emergency rent, mortgage and utility assistance during the pandemic, many people are still struggling to get by.

While county officials can’t change the rising prices nationwide, Shapiro said, residents who are experiencing hardship can call the county, or the United Way’s 2-1-1 line, and be directed to county-wide resources that can help.

“I can’t control the cost of milk, but I can help people. They just don’t always realize that those resources are out there,” she said.

Businesses and developers in the county have also had to adjust, Shapiro added.

“Our building standard numbers are holding strong, so that means there’s development going on. I think some of the projects have just taken longer, because of some supply chain issues,” Shapiro said. “I haven’t heard of very many who have not moved forward because of the increased costs.”

Historic opioid settlement opened doors for better treatment

Shapiro also touted the county’s work in its response to the opioid epidemic. The county received $104 million settlement from the pharmaceutical industry in 2019.

One of the biggest outcomes from that settlement, Shapiro said, is a $2.5 million innovative program in which individuals struggling with addiction can walk into local emergency rooms and receive treatment without judgement.

SummaHealth piloted the program and learned key takeaways that have helped officials better address the opioid crisis in the county, Shapiro said.

“Transportation was a problem for people, so they don’t show up, they don’t come back for whatever they need beyond that,” she said. “Addressing those issues and finding out what some of the hurdles are for people who are struggling, and then be able to help remedy those, are great.”

The county is also funding wraparound services to support pregnant women dealing with addiction, as well as supplying treatment medications in various communities.

Shapiro has served as the county’s top official since 2016. She said during her address that she is planning to run again for another term and will be up for re-election in 2024.

Content Source


News Press Ohio – Latest News:
Columbus Local News || Cleveland Local News || Ohio State News || National News || Money and Economy News || Entertainment News || Tech News || Environment News

Related Articles

Back to top button