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Safety officers work on tax petition drive



Published: Fri, August 9, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



The proposal is a half-percent because that's what's needed to bring back all the safety forces.

By ROGER G. SMITH

CITY HALL REPORTER

YOUNGSTOWN -- Firefighters didn't have the votes on city council, so they're doing the work themselves.

Police and firefighters were gathering signatures through this afternoon seeking to put a half-percent income tax on the November ballot.

Dave Cook, president of the International Association of Firefighters Local 312, expected to have 1,000 to 1,500 signatures before today's 4 p.m. deadline.

It will take about 550 valid signatures of voters in the last gubernatorial election to get the issue on the ballot.

City council also could sponsor its own ordinance to get the income tax increase on the ballot. Firefighters asked council members to do that, but there weren't enough votes, Cook said. Union members undertook the petition process once the lack of support became clear, which is why the effort is last-minute, he said.

Supporters on council

Three council members agreed to vote to put an income tax on the ballot, Cook said: Ron Sefcik, D-4th; Michael Rapovy, D-5th; and John Nittoli, D-7th.

The other four council members said they didn't think people in their wards wanted the issue on the ballot, Cook said.

Cook, however, suspects some of the refusal has to do with sour grapes after firefighters suggested council members lay off their aides to save money.

Council aides -- usually a member's spouse -- make $25,315 per year. Council members are paid $600 per year.

Council President John R. Swierz, who is a retired firefighter, said he was a little surprised there weren't enough votes to put the issue right on the ballot. Swierz, who votes only when necessary to break a tie, didn't expect the petition effort to be needed.

Terms of tax

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.

The money would be divided with the police department getting 45 percent, the fire department getting 35 percent and capital improvements 20 percent.

Neither Barry Ervin, president of the Youngstown Police Association, nor Mayor George M. McKelvey could be reached to comment Thursday.

McKelvey said a few weeks ago that he was open to listening to any ideas. It was premature to talk about an income tax, however, because nobody had made a proposal, he said.

The proposal is a half-percent, instead of a quarter-percent, because that's what's needed to bring back all the safety forces, Cook said.

Among the 60 city workers who will be laid off starting Monday are 15 firefighters and 11 police officers.

There is no sense proposing a tax that won't fix the problem, Cook said. He doesn't want to pay higher taxes either, but any increase should be enough to do the job, Cook said.

"If I'm going to pay them, I want them to be for a service," he said.

A projected $2.5 million deficit attributed to job losses and declining tax revenue prompted the layoffs.

Agreement to recall

City officials have committed to recalling all laid-off police and firefighters in November if the tax passes. Collection on the new tax wouldn't start until January, but the city can do the recalls in anticipation of the revenue.

Firefighters will picket in front of the closed McGuffey Road station at 8:30 a.m. Saturday. The pickets will let people know the station is closed and spread the word about the income tax, Cook said.

rgsmith@vindy.com




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