City officials: It’s inevitable city workers will lose jobs

By David Skolnick

The head of the police patrol officers union says there’s no need for layoffs.

YOUNGSTOWN — City administration officials met with union leaders to discuss ways to avoid layoffs, but both sides acknowledge that it’s inevitable city workers will lose their jobs.

The Wednesday meeting, which lasted about two hours and 45 minutes, focused primarily on administrators’ answering questions the union leaders had about the city’s 2009 general fund budget, according to those who attended the private discussion.

The option to meet again is there, but nothing is scheduled.

“It was productive from the standpoint that we got a better understanding of the budget, something we would have liked to have had a year ago,” said Cicero Davis, president of the union that represents clerical and secretarial employees. “But I don’t foresee the meeting stopping the city from making initial layoffs.”

The budget calls for $860,000 in personnel cuts, most of it from the police department. That could mean up to 34 city workers, including 22 to 26 police officers, losing their jobs. Two-week layoff notices are expected to be delivered Wednesday.

Mayor Jay Williams said he’d be “committed to no layoffs” if the unions give up “special pay,” such as money given to them for longevity (payments given for the number of years working for the city), clothing allowances, bonuses for not using sick days and for having college degrees.

“There’s no guarantee of no current or future layoffs,” Davis said as to why the unions won’t agree to reopen contract negotiations to eliminate special pay. “They threw this proposal at us at the last minute. It should have been proposed months ago.”

Union officials say their suggestions for saving money and requests to discuss budget problems were rebuffed by the administration for the past year. Administration leaders dispute that.

Edward Colon, president of the police patrol officers union, said he left Wednesday’s meeting confused.

The city, he said, has enough money through grants to not lay off any officers. Also, the city is seeking federal stimulus money to hire 30 police officers. The request is for about $6 million, yet the city budgeted $500,000 from the federal program.

Finance Director David Bozanich, who was at the meeting, said the city is “trying to be fair with our numbers.”

The mayor, who didn’t attend the meeting, added that the city won’t know how much stimulus money it will receive until July or August. If more comes in than expected, officers can be recalled.

Colon said, “I understand why you want to be conservative, but $500,000 is extremely conservative. There doesn’t seem to be a need to lay off anyone. But I’m afraid they’ll still do it.”

Colon also lashed out at Williams.

“If [Williams] goes forward with layoffs, we’ll know it’s a personal attack,” he said. “Why do you want to lay off so many police officers unless it’s personal?”

In response, Williams said, “Statements like that don’t merit a response, but it’s so wrong I have to respond. Statements like that are disappointing and are as unfounded as anything I’ve heard in my life. There’s nothing further from the truth.”

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