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Residents worry about jobs rather than town's finances



Published: Sun, April 27, 2003 @ 12:00 a.m.



Some people say they don't see much of a future in the town.

By HAROLD GWIN

VINDICATOR SHARON BUREAU

GREENVILLE, Pa. -- Ask people walking down Main Street if the borough's financial woes have affected their quality of life, and they'll tell you it's the area's loss of jobs, not borough overspending, that concerns them.

Indeed, municipal services haven't degraded, the Greenville Area Leisure Services Association is still running a full slate of recreational programs, and the service industry remains active.

Some people say there are a lot more houses for sale, but Julie Dolan, local manager for Howard Hanna real estate company, said there aren't any more houses on the market now than there were a year ago, and sales haven't slowed.

In fact, Greenville has really been a hot market the past couple of years, she said. However, Dolan said the average house sale price through her agency has decreased from $97,000 a year ago to $91,000 today.

If it hadn't been reported nearly 18 months ago that Greenville had amassed a $1.6 million deficit, the casual visitor would think nothing is amiss.

But there are some chinks beginning to appear in that facade, and some people don't see much of a future here. They can't do much about municipal finances, but they all need to make a living.

What residents say

"No jobs. That's the biggest thing," said Jimmy Johnson of Harrison Street, who said he moved back to Greenville a year ago after working for 20 years in Grand Rapids, Mich.

He had a job in Farrell for about six months but has been unemployed and looking for work the past six months.

"I think everybody's going to move out of here," Johnson said.

"I'm poor. I'm broke, and there's no work in town," said Patty Santell, a server at the Greenville Diner.

A number of large local industrial employers have closed shop in the Greenville area over the past several years, and that's affected everyone, she said.

Just how many people are unemployed is uncertain. The state doesn't provide a regional unemployment rate breakdown, but local officials and residents say it's higher here than the state's report of 6.5 percent unemployment for all of Mercer County.

Christopher Rimer of Shenango Street said he recently moved back to town from Girard, Ohio, to be with his children and their mother.

Rimer, who doesn't have a job, said that he hasn't noticed any change in borough operations or services but that he doesn't pay much attention to those things.

"I really haven't seen any change," said Joanna Johnson of South Main Street, as she shepherded her grandson along a Main Street sidewalk.

She's been a Greenville resident all her life, she said.

Johnson said she doesn't know how the borough got into financial trouble.

"Maybe it was mismanagement," she offered.

Will the town be able to survive the red ink?

"I certainly hope so," she said.

Warren Shaw of Clinton Street, a critic of the way the borough is being run, isn't so sure about the town's future.

"They haven't cut anything. They don't seem to grasp the fact that if you have a lot less taxpayers, you've got to tighten your belt," Shaw said.

Borough council missed a prime opportunity to cut spending recently by not eliminating a probationary firefighter's position and saving that salary, he said.

Population dropping

Greenville had about 9,000 people in the 1970s, but a lot of people have left town, said Shaw, owner of SHA-CO, a welding and fabricating company on Canal Street that employs seven people.

The official census count confirms his figures. The borough had 8,704 residents in 1970 but 6,380 in 2000, a drop of just over 25 percent.

Municipal services were built up over the years to serve that higher number of people but the borough can't continue to maintain that level, Shaw said. "There's no one to pay the bills," he said.

There was a time when Greenville Steel Car had 2,000 employees and the Bessemer & amp; Lake Erie Railroad had 600 or 700 jobs, but those are all gone now, Shaw said.

"I am the largest manufacturing employer in Greenville," he said. "It's very sad."

John Hajdak of Homer Street, another critic, said he thinks the quality of life in town "has gone downhill" in recent years.

"There's nothing left in Greenville," he said, also noting that the major manufacturing employers have closed down.

"If you want to work, you have to travel 30 or 40 miles," Hajdak said, pointing out that he works at a steel company in Farrell.

Hajdak said he's noticed some service businesses, at least one restaurant and one service station closed, and no one is moving in to take their place.

"If it wasn't for the retirees, there wouldn't be anything left in Greenville," he said.

Unlike Shaw, however, Hajdak said he's seen changes in the way the borough operates.

"I think it's improved quite a bit," he said.

Council members who were serving when the large budget deficit developed are gone, he said.

Things are going to change, Hajdak predicted, noting that the borough, as a state-designated financially distressed municipality, is now under a state Act 47 recovery plan that will help control spending.

The borough will only be able to spend what it takes in, he said.

"We've been able to maintain the [municipal] services," said Peter Longiotti, borough council president, but he warned that cuts are coming.

Greenville is still a good place to live, he said, pointing out that it has good schools and an extensive recreation program.

However, the borough will probably have to cut employee positions to reduce spending, more likely through attrition than by layoff, and that will reduce services, he said.

The borough is looking at combining services with other local municipalities, particularly in police and fire services, to control costs, Longiotti said.

The impact of the recent round of industrial job losses hasn't been felt yet, said Doug Riley, executive director of the Greenville Area Chamber of Commerce.

It will take about a year before the full impact of the recent announcements of substantial job cuts by the Werner Co. will be felt, he said.

The community diversified its employee base to survive major manufacturing job losses in the early 1980s when Bessemer & amp; Lake Erie Railroad, Chicago Bridge & amp; Iron and Greenville Steel Car shut down, Riley said.

There are a lot more companies with 50 or fewer employees in the region today, he said.

The service industry has grown, but the problem is the quality of the jobs it provides. Those in the service industry don't command the higher wages paid to industrial employees and that affects the local economy, he said.




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