Youngstown's safety forces have obligation to residents
Last November, Youngstown residents came through for the city's police officers and firefighters by approving a 0.5 percent income tax increase. Eighty percent of the $7 million a year generated by the new tax will go to the safety forces.
The police and firefighters now have the opportunity to say "thank you" with more than mere words.
How? By launching the same kind of no-holds-barred campaign evident in the general election to derail an initiative in the Ohio General Assembly that would prohibit municipalities from enforcing residency rules.
Specifically, the legislation that was passed last year by the House but blocked in the Senate would have given police officers, firefighters and emergency medical technicians the right to live where they pleased -- regardless of whether the city for which they worked had a residency requirement as a condition of employment.
There is every indication that House Bill 258, sponsored by Rep. Larry Flowers, a former fire chief and a Republican from Canal Winchester, will be reintroduced in the next couple of months.
Given that the House already approved the measure last year and that Republicans still control both chambers of the Legislature, the chances of passage are better than 50-50.
The voters of Youngstown approved a residency requirement in 1988. Thus, anyone hired by the city after that year had to become a resident within a certain amount of time.
It is not a stretch to imagine that the voters who went to the polls two months ago and approved the 0.5 percent income tax increase were well aware that the money would be going to not only bolster the ranks of the safety forces, but to provide a respectable living -- within the city's boundaries -- for the police officers and firefighters.
That is why the police union and the firefighters association are obligated to fight the anti-residency measure in the General Assembly.
It's a sure bet that the tax increase would have been trounced at the polls had members of the police and fire departments gone into the neighborhoods before the election and admitted to voters that given the opportunity they would move out of the city.
The fact that residents passed an amendment to the Youngstown Home Rule Charter making residency a condition of employment should serve as a warning to the safety forces.
If Flowers is successful in his asinine excursion -- above all else, it is an invasion of the constitutional authority of charter cities -- and Gov. Bob Taft signs the measure into law, there will be an exodus of safety forces personnel to the suburbs.
And should that happen in Youngstown, it would not be surprising if there were a grass-roots movement to repeal the tax increase.
Mayor George M. McKelvey echoes the sentiments of most Youngstown residents when he says of city government employees, "If the city is good enough to put food on your table through your wages, it's damn sure good enough to live in. If not, go get a job somewhere else."
Youngstown's police officers and firefighters must stand up and be heard on this important issue. They should launch a letter-writing campaign to urge legislators and the governor not to support the anti-residency measure.