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YOUNGSTOWN City to offer buyouts for workers



Published: Wed, July 24, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



Talk has cropped up about putting a quarter-percent income tax increase on the ballot to support safety forces.

By ROGER G. SMITH

CITY HALL REPORTER

YOUNGSTOWN -- The city will again extend workers a $10,000 offer to leave the payroll in hopes of reducing impending layoffs or unemployment costs.

Council approved the move in a special meeting Tuesday.

The incentive will be available to workers through Sept. 13.

Renewing the incentive should help the city shed more of its 850-worker payroll and reduce unemployment costs, said Mayor George M. McKelvey.

"It makes sound financial sense," he said.

Each worker who takes the deal instead of a layoff will save the city about $5,000 in unemployment, McKelvey said. The city would have to pay a worker who makes $30,000 about $15,000 in unemployment.

Last month, 46 workers left the payroll with the $10,000 incentive, but that wasn't nearly enough to offset a projected $2.5 million deficit.

Facing layoffs

The city is facing up to 60 layoffs. Notices probably will start going out next week, McKelvey said. A breakdown of where the layoffs will come from should be ready at the end of this week.

Talk has cropped up in recent days about possibly putting a 0.25-percent income tax increase on the November ballot. The money might be dedicated only to safety forces to save police and firefighter jobs.

McKelvey said that he is open to any way to substantially increase revenue but that it's premature to discuss a higher income tax. Nobody has approached the city about it, he said.

Council would need to approve legislation before Aug. 22 to get a tax on the November ballot, said Law Director John McNally IV. There also is a way to change the charter to include such a tax, but it's complicated and unlikely to happen right now, he said.

Revenue from tax

Such a tax would generate about $3.9 million a year, said Finance Director David Bozanich. The city now levies a 21/4 percent income tax.

Councilmen were noncommital about a tax increase, deferring to the mayor.

"I want to just see what the administration has got to say about what we have to do and what we're going to do to get our city back in order," John Nittoli, D-7th, said, adding that taxpayers will be facing a county sales tax on the November ballot and a possible state tax increase.

"That has to come from the mayor's office. He's the administrator. The recommendation would have to come from the mayor, and then we'll deal with that," said Richard Atkinson, R-3rd.

Councilman Rufus Hudson said he hasn't heard from the mayor, Police Chief Robert Bush or Fire Chief John O'Neill.

"I don't put a whole lot of validity to it until I hear from someone in authority regarding that issue. As far as I'm concerned, it's just gossip," Hudson said.

Dave Cook, president of the International Association of Firefighters Local 312, said the tax increase idea has been discussed, but before that, his union members want to see city leaders find ways to free up money to avoid laying off firefighters.

Some suggestions

Firefighter suggestions to council and the mayor have included the return of parking meters downtown, a tax on tickets to entertainment events and a road tax.

They even have suggested city council members lay off their own aides -- usually a spouse -- from their $25,315-a-year jobs before laying off firefighters.

"It sort of frustrates us that they're not pursuing some of these," Cook said.

McKelvey said some of the ideas, like the parking meters, make sense; others sound good but won't actually generate revenue.

Every penny helps, but the city needs millions in new revenue to make a substantial difference, he said. "... this challenge could realistically evolve into a crisis," he said.

rgsmith@vindy.com




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