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YOUNGSTOWN Cash-strapped city cuts 60 jobs, forcing closure of 2 fire stations



Published: Thu, July 25, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



Even with the layoffs, the city doesn't expect to eliminate the deficit until the end of 2003.

By ROGER G. SMITH

CITY HALL REPORTER

YOUNGSTOWN -- Street patrols will remain steady, but the fire department will close two stations under 60 layoffs announced today.

The city was notifying workers Wednesday and today. Layoff notices go out Friday. The last day will be Aug. 9, said Law Director John McNally IV.

"It's not a good feeling," said Mayor George M. McKelvey.

The police lose 11 officers among 21 in the department who will be laid off. Other officers, such as in the bicycle unit, will be reassigned to keep the same level of street patrols, said Lt. Robin Lees. Response to nonemergency calls may lag, he said.

The other police layoffs include five in the 911 center and four clerks.

Fire department cuts

The fire department loses 15 firefighters to layoffs, meaning two stations have to close.

Fire Chief John J. O'Neill Jr. was working on a plan today to rotate station closings.

A station might be closed for three to four weeks at a time.

Response time will rise from about three minutes to six or seven minutes for people who live where a station is closed, O'Neill said.

His greatest fear is having no backup should there be two fires at once, which isn't unusual.

The outlook

These will not be short-term layoffs, either.

Because of unemployment costs and severances, the city still projects a $2.1 million deficit for 2002. Assuming revenues remain stable, the layoffs should leave the city at break even by the end of 2003, said Finance Director David Bozanich.

The layoffs are designed to keep the city out of state fiscal watch, McKelvey said.

"It's very simple math. If you can't afford to pay somebody you can't afford to keep them on the payroll," he said. "There are no options here. This is something we must do."

Another department hit hard is streets, which will have 12 workers laid off. Joseph Mastropietro, street superintendent, couldn't be reached to comment.

Remaining layoffs are sprinkled among other city departments.

No court cuts

There are no layoffs in the court system. The courts were asked to help trim the deficit but refused, McKelvey said. Courts have the power to order the city to fund its operations.

Neither Sarah Brown-Clark, clerk of courts, nor Elizabeth Kobly, the presiding administrative municipal court judge, could be reached.

There aren't any layoffs in water or sewer. Those departments are separate from the city's general fund, which is running the deficit.

McKelvey said he took pains to spare the safety forces.

More police and firefighters -- 36 -- will be laid off than other workers, 24.

As a percentage, however, the safety ranks suffer less, he said. Safety forces were cut by 13 percent, while the nonsafety work force was cut by 22 percent.

McKelvey said the layoffs were designed to maintain basic services and still address the deficit.

For example, the street department needs enough people to plow snow come winter and each courtroom needs an assistant prosecutor to handle cases.

The city had to avoid a situation where it lays off and then must contract for a vital service, which usually costs more than doing it in-house, he said.

"It's not as simple as 'there's a body, eliminate them,'" McKelvey said. "You're really stretching the system as far as it can be stretched."




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