The mayor disputes council's complaints.
By ROGER G. SMITH
CITY HALL REPORTER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Council members are caught off guard on the city's slipping financial condition. The mayor is caught off guard about council's being caught off guard.
The clich & eacute; goes something like this: "What we have here is a failure to communicate."
The issue now is in the open.
Council members spent a half-hour Tuesday during a finance committee meeting expressing their displeasure with the administration's handling of this year's budget.
Rufus Hudson, D-2nd, used words such as betrayed and angry to describe his feelings. Richard Atkinson, R-3rd, called the administration's lack of interaction with council a slap in the face.
Early this month Mayor George M. McKelvey told The Vindicator that Youngstown's slipping financial position is a main reason that borrowing money for several downtown projects may be put on hold.
Income tax receipts started softening in November. The slide hasn't stopped in 2001, meaning the city could face budget cuts in the second half of the year to avoid a deficit.
Finance Director Barbara Burtner said the city wouldn't know the status of finances until late in the month, after analyzing numbers from the first six months.
McKelvey said he and Burtner would review the 2001 first-half numbers and consult with council's finance committee about the options.
Council complaints: Council members, however, said Tuesday they should have been kept informed about dropping revenues through the year, not first reading about it in the newspaper.
"I would definitely like to hear that from the finance department," said James E. Fortune Sr., D-6th, finance committee chairman.
Several said they have been asking for budget information all year but never received it. They say nobody from finance has been available in recent weeks to meet with them.
Councilmen said the mayor and the finance director, or her designee, should attend all council finance sessions to keep members informed.
Members agreed to send the mayor a letter immediately demanding an administration presence.
Council is not the enemy or opponent and has tried to work more closely with the administration, Fortune said.
"I wish we would get the same courtesy paid back to us," he said.
Mayor's response: McKelvey contends that Burtner sends council regular budget reports that include revenues; that she is available daily to discuss any issue with any council member; that council members are encouraged to meet with her when they don't understand an issue.
McKelvey said the complaints surprised him. He finds it curious that no council member has complained to him all year about lacking budget information or called him in the weeks since the Vindicator story appeared.
"It only takes a phone call," he said.
Also, he said, the complaints are being aired while Burtner is on vacation and unavailable to respond.
Falling city revenues should be no surprise, McKelvey said, considering the softening of the national economy and the many recent job losses in the city.