Williams faces stormy political weather

With his re-election bid a year away, this is probably not how Youngstown Mayor Jay Williams envisioned things would be in his city.

Challenging is a kind way to describe what Williams is facing.

When Williams took over as mayor Jan. 1, 2006, the city’s general fund had a $2,291,600 surplus.

But the city spends more than it collects and that surplus is projected to be $2,997 by Dec. 31 if nothing is done.

It’s even worse next year with a projected deficit of as much as $4.5 million by Dec. 31, 2009, again, if nothing is done.

Having few alternatives, Williams and his administration are recommending to city council that up to 60 jobs be cut by July 1.

Politically, it couldn’t come at a worse time for Williams.

The battle to convince Austintown and Boardman officials that the city’s economic incentive package will help all involved has heated up in recent weeks and promises to get hotter in the months to come.

The plan includes taxing those who work in the townships, but it also reduces the city income tax, which helps those who live in the townships and work in Youngstown.

On top of that, the city is searching for a way to turn around the financial problems at its Chevrolet Centre.

Williams got into a tough situation recently when he learned that Carmen S. Conglose has a fake college degree in one of his city personnel files. Conglose received about $3,000 over nine years in education bonuses from the city.

Williams faced criticism when he hired Conglose as traffic coordinator this month. Conglose had retired Dec. 31 as the city public works department’s deputy director, which paid $93,132 in salary last year. The part-time coordinator job paid up to $42,577 a year.

Williams’ decision to rehire Conglose after he retired was a controversial one to some. To have this happen only made more people question the appointment.

To his credit, Williams asked Conglose about the fake degree as soon as the mayor received an anonymous letter about it.

Conglose said he knew nothing about the bogus degree — even though he testified in a 2003 sworn court deposition that he earned it — and immediately resigned.

Conglose said he quit because he was tired of dealing with city employees who were jealous of him and didn’t like him, and not because he’s guilty of forging the degree.

Also, Williams ordered city officials to check the authenticity of degrees for every employee who receives the education bonus and brought the state auditor’s office in to assist with the investigation into Conglose.

Budet review

Williams isn’t going to win many fans with his decision to support a plan to eliminate up to 60 city jobs, which would save about $3.9 million a year. The mayor and city council will review the budget with department heads to see if further cuts can be made to reduce the number of layoffs.

Seeking re-election next year, Williams said the proposed job cuts are “not politically expedient, but it’s the responsible thing to do.”

In discussing the cuts with city council, Williams said, “There’s no one in this room with more to lose than me.”

Williams said he could have instructed the finance department to create a budget to get the city through his re-election bid. But, the mayor said, that would result a bigger financial problem and a larger number of layoffs in the future.

Big cuts to the ailing general fund aren’t likely to be found and layoffs will occur.

But if the mayor and his administration want to set an example, here’s two suggestions.

Travel budget

First, Williams could reduce the travel budget for his office. It was $2,392 in 2006 and $10,719 in 2007. The 2008 proposed budget includes $15,000 for the office’s travel expenses.

That action won’t save a single job — the average worker costs the city about $65,000 a year in salary and benefits — but it would be a symbolic gesture by the mayor that he’s making sacrifices.

Also, city officials decry the salary increases they have to give its unions. If city officials are serious about saving jobs, it should consider setting an example by repealing a 2.5-percent pay raise most managers are receiving this year.

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