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Hiring dispute delays store

Published: Wed, August 20, 2008 @ 12:09 a.m.

By John W. Goodwin Jr.

The mayor says either Liberty or Wal-Mart is to blame for the delay.

LIBERTY — Plans to build the much-anticipated Wal-Mart Supercenter on Belmont Avenue are now on hold indefinitely, and the city of Youngstown is at the heart of that decision, says a township official.

Township Trustee Jodi Stoyak said Wal-Mart officials have put plans to build the store on hold. She said water supply issues with the city of Youngstown are at the core of the decision to put the brakes on the project.

“This is very disturbing to me and will be disturbing to the rest of this community,” she said.

According to Stoyak, Wal-Mart officials left a message on the voicemail of Township Administrator Pat Ungaro on Tuesday saying that the company was ready to go out for bids in the building process, but Youngstown informed the company that it would be required to hire 25 percent of its workforce from Youngstown in order to receive city water.

But Mayor Jay Williams said, “The city of Youngstown’s water application has been in effect for over 20 years.”

Williams says the application was put in place by Ungaro, a former Youngstown mayor. Williams said he last spoke with Ungaro last week and has attempted to reach him about the issue.

“... If this [building] program is being put on hold, it is because of the incompetency of either Liberty or the people at Wal-Mart.”

Williams said he first heard of the issue through the media.

Stoyak said Wal-Mart does not want to agree to hire 25 percent of its employees from the city because doing so would tie the company’s hands in future hiring practices.

She said the request from the city deletes the possibility of jobs for anyone in the area, including the city.

“Wal-Mart could have actually hired more than 25 percent from the city, but by doing this and stopping this project, no one in Mahoning or Trumbull County will see any additional jobs,” Stoyak said. “We are starving for jobs in this area, and this project is being held up by the mayor. Unfortunately, I don’t think Mayor Williams realizes that Wal-Mart is not going to play games with him.”

“They [Wal-Mart] need to fill out the application like every application has been filled out for 20 years,” Williams said. It’s a simple, straightforward resolution.”

Williams said that Wal-Mart filled out the application but deleted or decided not to fill out certain sections, claiming it “X-ed them out.”

“Wal-Mart does not have the ability to arbitrarily decide which parts of the application they want to fill out,” Williams said. “All they have to do is fill out the application like the thousands of other applications [have been filled out] for the past 20 years.”

Wal-Mart must fill out the remainder of the application in order for it to be approved, the mayor added.

Stoyak said there is more at stake than just the Wal-Mart store. She said the township was expecting considerable growth around the big retailer, but those projects may also be in jeopardy if the Wal-Mart store is not built.

Stoyak said the situation has left township trustees’ hands tied in getting the retailer to build in the township.

“All trustees can do is work with the press to apply more pressure publicly and let the public know exactly what is going on with this situation,” Stoyak said.

This recent situation is not the first time a disagreement over water has threatened the Belmont Avenue Wal-Mart project.

Talk of a joint economic development agreement with the city for water several weeks ago briefly caused concern for township officials anticipating the project’s completion.

Township and city officials met at that time and discussed the plans. The outcome was that no JEDD would be sought on the project.

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