Mahoning County Commissioner Anthony Traficanti
By Peter H. Milliken
“Unconscionable” was the word the leader of the Mahoning County commissioners used twice to describe proposed 3 percent annual pay raises for 115 union workers at the county Children Services Board.
“It’s unconscionable, and we are going to bring the [Children Services] Board before the commissioners and have them explain this,” Anthony T. Traficanti, commissioners’ chairman, said at their Thursday meeting.
Although CSB approved them Tuesday, the pay increases can’t be granted unless the commissioners approve them.
The raises were contained in a three-year contract CSB negotiated with the Communications Workers of America, which took effect Feb. 1, 2009.
The increases were never granted because the county commissioners approved the contract, but with a salary freeze. The union, which represents clerical and group-home workers and social workers at the child-welfare agency, recently asked that the raises be revisited. The social workers are paid about $32,000 yearly.
CSB approved the raise two weeks after voters renewed a countywide, 0.85-mill, five-year CSB real-estate tax levy, which generates $1.75 million annually.
“We feel everybody’s worth a raise here in the county, but it’s unconscionable at this day and time in this community, with people losing their homes and losing their jobs, the highest foreclosure rate, the highest unemployment rate,” Traficanti said.
“I’ve been inundated with calls here and at my home. We passed a levy, and now, you’re giving them a raise,” said Commissioner David N. Ludt.
“I’m for putting a [wage] freeze on,” Ludt said. At the budget hearing, CSB can “explain how they got to that position where they’re going to give raises when the economy is what it is and the people just passed a levy. I don’t think it’s fair, and it doesn’t look right,” Ludt added.
Traficanti commended Children Services Board Member Victoria Wiery, who cast the sole vote against the increases at Tuesday’s CSB meeting and attended Thursday’s commissioners’ meeting.
Denise Stewart, CSB executive director, said she would attend a budget hearing with the commissioners, but she didn’t directly respond to the commissioners’ comments.
“This is a matter that will be dealt with by the board, and I will be consulting with the board members about what our next step is going to be,” Stewart said.
In other business, with Commissioner John A. McNally IV absent, Commissioners Traficanti and Ludt adopted a resolution urging the Ohio Senate to approve House Bill 70, known as “Nitro’s Law,” which the Ohio House approved 59-38.
The proposed law would make available to prosecutors a fifth-degree felony charge for cruelty to cats or dogs. Currently, only misdemeanor charges are available to prosecutors for these offenses. “They’re putting some teeth behind the law,” Traficanti said.
The bill is named after Nitro, one of the dogs that died in 2008 at the High Caliber Canine Kennel in Youngstown, whose former owner, Steven Croley, was fined $1,000 and jailed for four months after his conviction on four misdemeanor animal cruelty counts.
A civil lawsuit against him by Nitro’s owners, which was set for trial in September, is stayed because Croley filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.
The county engineer’s office announced the receipt of $2.72 million in federal highway money for the $3.4 million replacement in 2013 of the Division Street Bridge over the Mahoning River; and the commissioners approved the county’s $340,000 contribution toward the local match. The city will contribute the other $340,000 of the local match.
The narrow, two-lane, 200-foot-long, 1930s-vintage bridge connects V&M Star Steel with the Ohio Works Industrial Park.