YOUNGSTOWN Fire chief readies cuts in case tax increase fails



Councilman Rufus Hudson outlined alternatives to the tax increase.
By ROGER G. SMITH
CITY HALL REPORTER
YOUNGSTOWN -- The fire department is preparing for a force with up to 40 fewer firefighters if the proposed income tax increase fails.
The move would close five of eight stations.
Meanwhile, a city council member outlined steps during a debate on the issue that he said the city should have taken instead of the tax. And, a large religious-civic group has declined to address the city tax, citing short notice.
Those are among the happenings in recent days as the debate over the proposed half-percent income tax increase moves into the final days before the Nov. 5 election.
Fire department
Tuesday, Fire Chief John J. O'Neill Jr. outlined for Mayor George M. McKelvey the details of what 40 firefighter layoffs would mean. That's in addition to the 15 firefighters who are laid off now plus other vacancies.
The city finance department has indicated that at least two dozen more firefighters would face layoff if the tax fails. The projection is based on the department's size in proportion to cuts needed to eliminate an estimated $2.2 million deficit. The police department faces about 45 more layoffs.
O'Neill was told to prepare for cutting up to 40 firefighters. That would leave 80 firefighters, 68 below what O'Neill considers adequate. Of eight stations, one already is closed and a second closes periodically.
Only the downtown, Indianola and Elm & amp; Madison streets stations would remain open. Those three were picked because they run through the middle of the city. They could respond to either side of town, O'Neill said.
Response time will rise from about 3.5 minutes to between 8 and 9 minutes to the outskirts of the city, he said.
It will be impossible to handle more than one emergency at a time under the plan, O'Neill said. Mutual aid from surrounding fire departments isn't practical, either, he said. Other cities and townships can help in a catastrophe, but not with daily work such as car fires, he said.
Firefighters and police have two events scheduled for Monday. Officers and firefighters will picket in front of city hall from 9:45 to 11 a.m. Then, at 4 p.m., there will be a rally for the tax at Jolly Joe's Sports Bar on Sheridan Road.
Alternatives
Meanwhile, Councilman Rufus Hudson, D-2nd, outlined alternatives to the tax increase at a forum conducted Monday. The Junior Civic League and the Community Mobilization Committee organized the event. Barry Ervin, president of the Youngstown Police Association, spoke for the tax.
Hudson said before seeking the tax, the city should have minimized the need by: seeking union concessions outlined in a previous state audit; seeking quick ways to generate additional revenue; and making cuts that would have the yielded the biggest, quickest savings.
He also said the issue wasn't properly aired in council before workers took the issue to the ballot.
Hudson has been on record with concerns about the tax increase since police officers and firefighters broached the idea. A majority of other council members support the tax but have been less outspoken.
ACTION
Also, on Sunday, the Alliance for Congregational Transformation Influencing Our Neighborhoods, or ACTION, gathered more than 2,000 people from its coalition of city and suburban churches for its annual meeting.
The group discussed and endorsed passage of the half-cent Mahoning county sales tax renewal that's on the ballot.
ACTION didn't, however, take up the city tax. The issue came up too late for the group to research it and educate its members, said the Rev. Michael Harrison, ACTION president.
City police and firefighters started the drive to get the tax on the ballot in early August. ACTION has a process to review such issues but just didn't have enough time to follow it, he said.
rgsmith@vindy.com

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