In recent years, the city of Youngstown has had one of the highest per capita homicide rates in the country, one of the highest unemployment rates in the state of Ohio, one of the worst public school systems in the state, and one of the largest losses in population since the 1990 census. What the city of Youngstown does not need today is another "first" that would make it even less attractive to business.
It does not need an income tax rate that would put it above Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati, Dayton, Toledo and Akron.
We believe that the safety forces are making a grave error in asking voters in November to approve a half-percent increase, taking the rate from 2.25 percent to 2.75 percent. It would be a mugging of the taxpayers in broad daylight.
Recently, we urged members of the police and fire departments to burst the trial balloon they had launched in publicly talking about a 0.25 percent increase. As we said at the time, with major employers in the city folding or cutting back, and in light of the nation's weak economy, even a quarter-percent increase would be a burden that many city residents or nonresidents who work in Youngstown would be unwilling or unable to pay.
A 0.5 percent increase would be sheer folly.
We were expecting Mayor George M. McKelvey to join us in our opposition to any tax increase, so you can imagine our surprise when he said recently that he supports the safety forces' efforts to put the half-percent increase on the ballot. Why surprise?
Because two months ago, in response to a question from an editorial writer about the impending layoffs in city government, McKelvey issued the following statement:
"Many people in Youngstown are on layoff, unemployed, or underemployed, these are the people who pay the salaries and benefits of public employees. Public employees must understand that they are not exempt or isolated from the realities of the local economy. The private sector employees provide the revenue to operate city government, when they are suffering the effects of an economic downturn, the public sector must suffer the same consequences."
McKelvey also had a response to the attacks on him by some city employees because of the impending layoffs. He wrote:
"The irony: The mayor hired [more than 50] of the police officers he may have to lay off. He hired them when money was available. Now that revenues are down, he is unable to maintain the same staffing levels. That's the simple truth.
"Every private and public sector employee is hired contingent on the availability of funds to pay the employee. The private sector understands this, does the public sector?
"Do public employees think they are guaranteed lifetime employment when they are hired?"
We'd be hard-pressed to say it better ourselves.
If city officials argue that the situation has changed since June because government is facing a multimillion increase in workers' compensation costs, we would remind them of a 2000 state audit that claimed almost $5 million in income tax wasn't being collected. Officials in City Hall disputed that figure and said it was between $780,000 and $3 million. Even so, there's money out there that's owed to the city.
This isn't the time for a tax increase, and as the mayor himself once correctly concluded, when the economy is in a downturn, you tighten your belt.