Safety forces petition for tax
The city has committed to recalling all laid off police and firefighters in November if the tax passes.
By ROGER G. SMITH
CITY HALL REPORTER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Police and firefighters have until the end of Friday to gather enough valid signatures to put a half-percent income tax on the November ballot.
The move would raise the city's income tax from 2.25 percent to 2.75 percent.
A half-percent increase would generate $7.2 million a year.
Dave Cook, president of the International Association of Firefighters Local 312, filed the needed proposed ordinance Wednesday with the city to get the tax on the ballot. Under the ordinance, the proceeds would be divided this way:
* Police department, 45 percent.
* Fire department, 35 percent.
* Capital improvements, 20 percent.
Among the 60 city workers who will be laid off starting Monday are 15 firefighters and 11 police officers.
Reason for layoffs
A projected $2.5 million deficit blamed on job losses and declining tax revenue prompted the layoffs.
The city has committed to recalling all laid-off police and firefighters in November if the tax passes, said Finance Director David Bozanich. Collection on the new tax wouldn't start until January, but the city can do the recalls in anticipation of the revenue, he said.
These are the steps that must be taken to get the tax increase on the ballot via petitions, according to Law Director John McNally IV:
First, a proposed ordinance must be filed with the city, which happened Wednesday.
Then, supporters must circulate petitions -- with the proposed ordinance attached -- and gather valid signatures from 3 percent of city residents who voted in the last gubernatorial election. That means about 540 valid signatures, though supporters are trying to get as many as possible.
Those signatures must be filed with the city clerk's office by the end of Friday. The city clerk must hold those petitions for 10 days by state law.
Finally, the petitions must be sent to the Mahoning County Board of Elections. The deadline for getting items on the ballot is Aug. 22.
The proposed income tax increase goes on the ballot if the deadlines are met and the elections board finds that enough signatures are valid.
City council also could sponsor its own ordinance before Aug. 22 and put an income tax increase on the ballot. That was the process used to get income taxes on the ballot in 1981 and 1995.
Council members, however, have been noncommittal in recent weeks to the idea of a new income tax.
The city administration hasn't taken a position on supporting the proposed levy, Bozanich said.
The finance and law departments gave the fire and police unions information needed to develop their proposal. The move, however, is a grassroots effort sprouting from the fire and police unions, Bozanich said. Cook could not be reached to comment this morning.
A .25-percent income tax increase also had been talked about in recent weeks. The current proposal is larger, however, because city costs will rise in 2003.
The city expects its workers compensation costs in the general fund to increase $2.6 million in 2003, Bozanich said. The levy must cover those costs plus the costs of paying all the returning workers. The city likely will face more layoffs if the levy fails or if other revenue doesn't increase, Bozanich said.
The city has cut its work force paid through the general fund by more than 100 people, or about 17 percent between the layoffs and the 40-some workers who took a recent $10,000 incentive to resign or retire.