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How are your tax dollars spent?


Published: Sun, April 17, 2011 @ 12:10 a.m.

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VINDY.COM ADDS WATCH SITE TO EASILY TRACK GOVERNMENT SPENDING

By Ashley Luthern and Elise Franco

news@vindy.com

YOUNGSTOWN

The Vindicator launches Government Watch online today, giving readers the building blocks to track how tax dollars are spent.

Government Watch will provide salary and budget information for government entities — a beneficial service, said Aimee Edmondson, a longtime journalist and assistant professor at the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University.

“Most people don’t have time to go to the courthouse or to go the various places they need to get the public records. To have one-stop shopping, I think, is valuable,” she said.

Ensuring government transparency can be time-consuming. Some government entities responded to requests from The Vindicator for information in a reasonable amount of time, as required by law. Other entities have yet to comply fully with requests, citing technical or other barriers.

Reporters at The Vindicator began to file Freedom of Information requests with Valley entities in early March to start the project. The goal is to have raw budget data reflecting every government salary and budget online and available within the year.

Boardman and Poland townships and Salem and Struthers schools responded to the request and provided the information electronically, as asked. The Western Reserve Joint Fire District did respond promptly, but with a paper printout, which will appear as PDFs on the Government Watch page on Vindy.com.

The Poland school district did respond in part, but did not include salaries as requested.

Documents from Youngstown and Mahoning County collected during those governments’ budget processes are included on the site.

Government Watch also links to outside websites and blogs that work in the public interest. If readers want to search by individual teacher name for salary and pension information, The Buckeye Institute link is a key resource. Much of the video work of Vindicator Columbus correspondent Marc Kovac appears on his Capital Blog, which is updated daily.

There are direct links to the Ohio Ethics Commission and Ohio Ethics Law, too.

Another Government Watch feature provides at-a-glance recaps of who voted for what in both chambers of the Ohio General Assembly.

Government Watch will link to relevant stories written by Vindy staffers, and readers are encouraged to interact with the material by posting comments to stories on Twitter using the #govwatch hashtag.

“I can’t think of anything in a democracy more important than an informed citizenry,” said David Marburger, an Ohio attorney specializing in public records who also represents The Vindicator. “It’s obviously important to people who pay taxes; it serves the people.”

Edmondson said the public, including reporters, often don’t realize what information is available through open records law.

Under Ohio’s Sunshine Law, although there are exemptions, “the baseline is you assume it’s open and ... a lot of people don’t take the time or have the time to investigate that,” she said.

Edmondson added that increasingly newspapers are linking to records in stories because of additional space provided online.

“When you write ‘according to records,’ a lot of times in the story we don’t say where we got the record, and an average reader might not understand where we’re quoting from,” Edmondson said.

Posting the original documents online “will help with our credibility in an era when we’re perceived as not as credible as we should be,” she said.

The information provided is just a start for Government Watch, but even what’s available now makes for interesting comparisons.

For example, budget information for three police departments, Youngstown, Boardman and Poland Township, show differences in uniform allowance.

In 2010, full-time patrolmen in Youngstown were allotted $542.40 annually for uniforms; all full-time officers in Boardman, $1,000; and those in Poland $850. Even within this relatively narrow parameter, there are different rules based on contracts. An officer in Boardman must purchase his or her bulletproof vest using the uniform allowance, whereas an officer in Poland does not. A bulletproof vest usually costs between $600 and $800 and lasts five years.

Kyle Miasek, Youngstown deputy finance director, said the $542.40 uniform allotment for patrolmen was a negotiated decrease in the new contract. Patrolmen will receive their full allotment, $1,085, this year. Ranking officers negotiated to waive all of their uniform allowance in 2010. They’ll receive $1,050 in this year.

Miasek said officers’ contracts don’t stipulate that the money has to be used solely for uniforms.

“They’re not required to submit documentation supporting what they use the money for,” he said. “For at least six years, that’s what’s been in place.”

In Youngstown, patrolmen receive about $805 annually in hazard pay, ranking officers, about $780; Boardman and Poland Township officers do not receive hazard pay.

Karl Henkel contributed to this article.


Comments

1lee(544 comments)posted 3 years, 5 months ago

I am surprised, I always thought of your paper as pro Govt. I'm glad that you are going to help us keep Govt responsible

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2Photoman(1004 comments)posted 3 years, 5 months ago

I believe this to be an excellent way to go and seeing the numbers in print should cause more citizens to become active in the political processes.

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3stewie(109 comments)posted 3 years, 5 months ago

This site is awesome! It's been needed for a long time.

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4borylie(790 comments)posted 3 years, 5 months ago

“I can’t think of anything in a democracy more important than an informed citizenry,” said David Marburger, an Ohio attorney specializing in public records who also represents The Vindicator. “It’s obviously important to people who pay taxes; it serves the people.”

My rant for years has been an ignorant or uninformed public and my finger has been pointed at The Vindicator and the print media. RepublicanRick is absolutely correct in stating that the media is our watchdog.

There's nothing worse than debating with an uninformed person who only knows what headline they read or what sound bite they heard. Or worse,them not knowing something because it wasn't reported at all,keeping them more uninformed and ignorant.

This is a great start to letting us know what's going on without us doing all the research and then how in the heck do we get that info out there.

If I lose a debate and the person is well informed,I can live with that,I can't live with an uninformed or partially informed person that gets their info from partisan websites.

A lot of people don't like this motto,but Fair and Balanced is all that I want.

At this time Vindy and Todd Franco,thank you for the courage being displayed and keep up the good work.

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5GLIBBY(3 comments)posted 3 years, 5 months ago

I only hope that the Vindy will publish the salaries of the GM workers/management, Vindy workers/management, AT &T workers/management,Anthem workers/management and those future investors who have the cost of gas to $4.00..
Although I understand that there are problems in the public sector, it appears that no one wants to touch the private sector and that costs us money, too! And, don't forget, public employees ARE taxpayers as well and have to pay the inflated gas, utility and car prices because of the salaries and benefits of those working in those areas.

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6unhappyvoter1(87 comments)posted 3 years, 5 months ago

you are going to see that the only people that make money in government is administration and that we have to much of in mahoning county agencies. to many chiefs not enough indians as they say.

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7RickJude7496(16 comments)posted 3 years, 5 months ago

"Uniform allowances are tax dodges by employees."

Not true. Taxes come out of my uniform allowance. YPD and YFD also have taxes taken out of their uniform allowance.

Even as a public employee, I do agree this is a good thing. It shows not everyone is as overpaid as you think. It also shows a few that are.

I only caution the vindy to be careful to posting the names of people who may be in sensitive undercover positions....

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8TheLostPatrol(756 comments)posted 3 years, 5 months ago

I can save you a half-a-million right from the get-go:

Eliminate the position of Mayor Jay Williams $120,000 yr. (homicide capital of the USA + future Dupah Czar)

Eliminate the State Seat of Bob Hagan $ 74,000 yr. part-time/+committee appt.

Eliminate the State Seat of Ron Gerberry $ 80,000 yr.+committee appt.

Eliminate the Asst. County Engineer's position of Marilyn Kenner $95,000+/yr. (Mahoning County is pothole heaven)

Consolidate 7 Youngstown City Councilmembers to 4 - Total savings
$120,000/yr.

Cut the City finance and Law Director's from $96,000 apiece to $75,000 apiece
Total savings $42,000.00

all for a savings of $531,000.00 annually and that only took a few minutes, and what services did we lose by doing it?

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9Sickofit2(9 comments)posted 3 years, 5 months ago

I'm with you Glibby. I'm one of those public servants who has my name listed and the salary I make. I truly have no probliem with that. I'm thrilled to see that people who think that public employees have these fabulous salaries can see that we're just average citizens for the most part. That being said, I also believe the Vindicator should post every single person, by name and salary, from GM. After all, didn't the government bail out GM? Therefore, I, as a taxpayer, should have the right to know what each and every GM employee earns. I also believe that since we're subscribers to the Vindicator and therefore pay their employees' salaries, that we should be informed about how much each and every Vindicator employee earns....the list goes on and on. Public employee or not, we're still entitled to privacy. If the Vindicator wants to list job positions and earnings for each and every job in the city/county/state, I would applaud them. I think it's crass and totally inappropriate to name names. My next search is going to the ethics section of this new site.

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10borylie(790 comments)posted 3 years, 5 months ago

It's amazing that certain posters don't know the difference between public sector workers and private sector workers.

We can quit buying The Vindicator,so as not to support their wages. We can quit buying GM cars and not support their wages. We can't quit paying for those six road workers gathered around a pothole.

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11redvert(2064 comments)posted 3 years, 5 months ago

I commend the Vindy on creating this forum. Make sure that it is unbiased. That is not always easy to do since we ALL tend to be somewhat biased even if we do not think so unless we stand back and look at our own opinions from a distance.

I find it very interesting that Zorn goes out of his way to try to avoid presenting the data. He just showed the citizens of Poland that he is not completely honest with them when it comes to operating expenses. Will this affect some of the citizen's upcoming votes on tax increases? You betcha!!!

Keep this forum going!!!

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12Ytownnative(1036 comments)posted 3 years, 5 months ago

I see why my water bill is sooo high
holy smokes they get paid alot

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13Sickofit2(9 comments)posted 3 years, 5 months ago

Yes, Borylie, we can stop buying GM cars, but that doesn't negate the fact that the government used our tax money to bail them out. I'm certainly not complaining about that, but I can tell you that the private sector GM workers would be livid if each and every one of their names & salaries was posted for the public eye. As I said, you want to post positions and earnings, that's fine, I applaud it. But because I'm a public employee, I shouldn't be stripped of my privacy. I too am a taxpayer.

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14GLIBBY(3 comments)posted 3 years, 5 months ago

Borylie, you are right. I will cancel my subscription tomorrow and my next car will be a Honda, although I have subscribed to the Vindy for 40 years and have only owned American cars. But don't you see, that would even further destroy our fragile economy. And because I am a better person than those on the public employee witch hunt, I really will keep supporting my local industry. It is just disheartening to read the continuous hateful and negative comments from those who really don't know the truth of the matter. MOST public employees do not get paid a lot - an attorney with a DOCTORATE degree in this county gets paid less than a guy working on the GM line ($55,000 as compared to $65,000). I have a Master's degree and retired after 32.5 years in public service at $47,000. I could have done a lot better making cars in Lordstown or maybe being the editor of the Vindy.

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15cambridge(3013 comments)posted 3 years, 5 months ago

The fact that the ultra rich are excused by the republicans from paying their fair share of taxes is the cause of financial situation in this country. That and the fact that these teabagger/republicans can get their sheep to back their agenda.

The richest 400 earners made a combined income of 105 billion dollars or an average of 263 million each while paying only 17% in taxes.

http://www.forbes.com/2009/01/29/irs-...

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16Hlecter(59 comments)posted 3 years, 5 months ago

Consolidate school districts and public services NOW!

It is such an easy solution, it's a no-brainer actually.

If a candidate for Mahoning county trustee would back their whole election on this one idea only, they should win election easily.

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17Franco58(2 comments)posted 3 years, 4 months ago

This is a great community paper. They really care for people in the community. They care so much that they posted all the employees of Struthers City Schools names, salaries, and SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBERS. Great Job keeping people in the community identies safe. No wonder why Poland won't turn over their records. Your editor obviously doesn't edit what's being posted online. NO SURPRISE you won't take any responsibility for your actions. Great Goverment Watch Dog Site. Keep up the good work. Maybe you can post all the Vindicator's staff SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBERS by "accident"

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18ytown1(392 comments)posted 3 years, 4 months ago

Why blame the Vidicator, the crack staff of Struthers should have known better. Put blame where blame belongs, they are educated people are they not?

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19fedupwithcrap(317 comments)posted 3 years, 4 months ago

fedupwithcrap (anonymous) says...
Lets go back as far as 2007, as people have claimed on here, that Ludt edits his videos. And see as this video was clearly not edited, and he got the eyewitnesses right then and there that Pat Bundy, Captain, came to Ludts house cussing at him!! The minutes and seconds are clearly on this tape!!

You watch this video, Captain Bundy sent pictures of Jamie Ludt and his underage son to his house, does this now make him a pedophile for taking pictures of underage children? (Charlie Sheen syndrome winning)

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20fedupwithcrap(317 comments)posted 3 years, 4 months ago

Why did the vindy shut down the number one story? Youngstown Man Caught Tailing Officers, yet it was stopped quickly after 260 comments, now you can't comment apparently the truth doesn't matter to the people of the mahoning valley.

Ask the vindy why this story was stopped online citizens!!

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21fedupwithcrap(317 comments)posted 3 years, 4 months ago

@ytown
You are the one following me around, and no I am no ludt, the name is Charlie!! I live outside of struthers and I am pretty well knows as well. Even was on the radio with the former mayor mckelvey, just check april 8, 2011 archives. So why do you keep calling names and insulting me and others, who happen to only want to speak the truth?

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22ytown1(392 comments)posted 3 years, 4 months ago

Let me tell you something Charlie, You had told your truth more than 60 times on the other stories thread, don't you think you had plenty of time to get somebodies attention? If nobody cares after 60 or more doses of truth, guess what it is time to put it to bed, now that was done with as much consideration I could muster to your cause. I am only stating the facts. Give it a rest Charlie, there maybe another day to tell the truth, not just on every thread, that is really looking desperate and abnormal, obsessive is the real issue here. Good night Charlie.

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23ytown1(392 comments)posted 3 years, 4 months ago

Thanks Vindy

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