Township officials say the Tamco refund made their budget situation 'critical.'
& lt;a href=mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org & gt;By IAN HILL & lt;/a & gt;
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
AUSTINTOWN -- Staff Sgt. Robert Whited was looking forward to starting a new career when he returned from active duty with the Ohio National Guard's 838th Military Police Co.
He'd been on duty for 18 months, providing security first for a Cleveland airport and later for military bases in Washington, D.C. During that time he had gotten married and had been hired as an Austintown police officer.
The 838th returned from duty earlier this month. Whited listened as township Trustee Bo Pritchard told a crowd at a welcome home ceremony that he was happy one of "Austintown's finest" had returned.
He said that after the ceremony had ended, Pritchard pulled him aside and told him he might be laid off due to budget cuts.
"It was kind of like a punch in the gut," Whited said. He said he had served as a part-time officer in Austintown for seven years and that he had been told by township officials that a full-time job would be waiting for him once he returned from duty.
"I felt like I had finally accomplished my goal," Whited said. "Now they ripped it away from me to save a few bucks."
Whited and Patrolman Shawn Hevener were given pink slips by the township Thursday. Their layoffs will take effect today.
A total of 10 township employees have received layoff notices in the last few weeks.
Township Clerk Michael Kurish said the layoffs are needed because of increases in the cost of wages, benefits and workers' compensation for all township employees. He added that the cost of utilities and supplies for the township also has increased this year.
Because of the increases, the township would have to pay an additional $700,000 this year to provide the same services it did last year, Kurish said. The township is expecting to save about $350,000 through the layoffs and other budget cuts it has made so far.
Pritchard couldn't be reached to comment.
Whited said the township shouldn't have waited until he returned to active duty to tell him he might be laid off. He added that he didn't understand why township officials didn't know earlier about the budget cuts.
"It seems like they're doing this from the seat of their pants," Whited said.
Township Administrator Michael Dockry said the township may not have been forced to lay off employees if it hadn't been required to pay a $460,000 tax refund to Phar-Mor last year. The refund stemmed from an Ohio Board of Tax Appeals decision to reduce the taxable value of the inventory kept at Phar-Mor's Tamco warehouse on Victoria Road in 1994 and 1995.
Because of the refund, the township had to take out a $300,000 loan to ensure that it ended last year in the black. Dockry added that the township's goal has been to, "provide the level of service that's needed for as long as you can.
Whited said he's been checking the want ads and he hopes to return part-time to Red Diamond Uniform and Police Supply Inc. on Mahoning Avenue, where he worked full-time before he went on duty.
He also said he may take advantage of the Ohio National Guard's scholarship program and attend college.
An Austintown native, Whited spent four years in the Navy after graduating from Fitch High School in 1990.
Whited added that he hasn't given up hope of one day becoming a police officer.
"I love the job," he said.
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