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Now is not the time for income tax increase



Published: Mon, July 29, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



With 60 city employees receiving layoff notices as a result of Youngstown government's bleak financial situation, some members of the safety forces have launched a trial balloon for a 0.25 percent income tax increase so that police and fire departments can be returned to full strength. The balloon needs to be burst as quickly as possible. Now isn't the time for anyone in the public sector to be talking about generating additional income by dipping into taxpayers' pockets. The income tax rate is now 21/4 percent.

Given the loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars in income tax revenue as a result of 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 and nonresidents who work in Youngstown would be unwilling or unable to pay. A tax increase is a sure way of chasing away employers who are already having a difficult time making ends meet.

The 60 layoffs announced by Mayor George M. McKelvey -- notices went out Friday -- will undoubtedly have a negative impact on the way city government does its job. There will be a reduction in services, but McKelvey insists that the health, welfare and safety of Youngstown residents will not be jeopardized.

Fire station closings

For example, the fire department will be closing two stations as a result of 15 firefighters being laid off, but Fire Chief John J. O'Neill Jr. is developing a plan to rotate station closings. A station might be closed for three to four weeks at a time.

O'Neill makes no secret of the fact that response time will rise from about three minutes to six or seven minutes for people who live near a closed station. But rather than storm City Hall demanding a return of all firefighters, residents should take it upon themselves to become more active in their neighborhoods. There should be a willingness to help one another in times of emergencies.

Likewise, the police department will be losing 21 employees, including 11 officers, which means that nonemergency calls may not receive the prompt response that residents have come to expect. But it's a small price to pay for the peace of mind that comes with knowing that police officers are patrolling the streets and that criminals don't have free rein in high-crime neighborhoods.

Crime remains the leading concern for many Youngstown residents, and the mayor and his police chief, along with city council, are committed to making sure the city does to return to the days of record high homicides and burglaries. Although the number of police and firefighters accounts for more than half of all the layoffs, as a percentage of the total number of safety forces, the 36 cuts represent 13 percent. On the other hand, the 24 other workers laid off account for a 22 percent reduction in the work force excluding police and fire.

Cost-cutting initiatives

But the point that must be made is that Youngstown city government was able to ride out the financial storm longer than other government entities and private companies. That's because the mayor, with city council's support, launched several initiatives that cut costs and eliminated waste.

Most general fund departments are shouldering the burden of declining revenues, but the municipal court and the clerk of courts office are refusing to reduce personnel to help the city trim its projected $2.5 million deficit. That is unacceptable.




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