Several weeks ago, we suggested in this space that there was a silver lining in the state fiscal emergency cloud hanging over the city of Girard: the three branches of government, the executive, legislative and judicial, would have no choice but to work together.
We spoke too quickly. But it isn't the lack of cooperation among the branches -- at least not yet -- that has given us pause. Rather, it is the seemingly intractable position taken by the unions representing the city's police officers and firefighters over the issue of layoffs or wage freezes. As a story that appeared on the front page of last Monday's Vindicator put it: "Leaders of the safety forces say they aren't interested in cutting jobs or freezing wages -- ever."
Economic meltdown: With the nation in the grips of an economic melt down, with the state of Ohio facing a $1.5 billion operating budget shortfall in fiscal years 2002 and 2003, and with local governments being forced to make difficult choices in order to balance their books, the position of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 52 and the International Association of Firefighters Local 1220 is surprising, to put it kindly.
Are the city of Girard's police officers and firefighters so blind to what is going on in the private sector? Have they lost sight of the hundreds of thousands of people who have been laid off or have permanently lost their jobs as a result of the economy's collapse?
Were they not affected, as we were, over the piece-by-piece sale of CSC Ltd. of Warren, formerly Copperweld Steel, which just 11 months ago was the fourth largest employer in Trumbull County with more than 1,300 employees?
The city of Girard's financial problem is real. State Auditor Jim Petro has not only declared that the city is in fiscal emergency, but said that it would be at least two years before a state-mandated fiscal planning and supervision commission will give up control of the city's treasury.
Performance audit: The auditor's office will be issuing a performance audit that will identify options for budget reductions and will also suggest ways that the operation of city government can be improved. In addition, the 2000 regular audit of Girard's finances will be submitted to the mayor and council, and the commission will be reviewing a financial recovery plan developed by the city.
It would not be an exaggeration to suggest that as things now stand, there isn't a light at the end of Girard's fiscal tunnel. The city is expected to end the year with a $1 million deficit, even with all the cost-cutting measures that have been implemented.
Yet, the safety forces seem to have adopted a position that ignores reality. A city that faces a financial crisis as severe as Girard's can't recover without reducing costs, and the largest cost of running government is wages and fringe benefits.
We would urge all public employees in Girard, from the mayor on down, to think about the sacrifices that many of the taxpayers in the community are being forced to make and then to consider how fortunate they are to have jobs.