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Challenge for Youngstown: Do more with less workers

Published: Tue, March 29, 2011 @ 12:00 a.m.

This is not the time for govern- ment to be padding the public payroll, especially in a community that is on a decline in terms of population, and has budgetary challenges to overcome.

The city of Youngstown does not need a chief planner and a park and recreation director. The work is now being performed by individuals on the payroll, which is how it should be. The aim of governments at all levels should be to reduce the cost of employment and do more with less — standard operating procedure in the private sector.

It’s a very simple proposition: If you aren’t willing to go beyond what your job description requires, get out of government service. There are many highly qualified, experienced individuals looking for work because of down-sizing in the private sector. Indeed, the goal of hiring the best and brightest is now possible given how financially attractive public service has become, compared with what is going on in the real world.

We find the reaction of Jason Whitehead, the mayor’s chief of staff and interim park and recreation director for the past four years, to be just what the taxpayers of the city are seeking. Whitehead, who is paid $74,187 a year for doing both jobs, said there is no need to fill the position of director. To repeat: Whitehead said he is more than willing to wear two hats — even though he did not receive an increase in his chief-of-staff pay.

It is noteworthy that in the past four years, the Youngstown Park Department has operated as efficiently as can be expected given the budgetary strictures that are a reality in governments everywhere.

By contrast, Bill D’Avignon, Youngstown’s Community Development Agency director, has said that also running the planning department since Chief Planner Anthony Kobak left has stretched him thin. We aren’t comparing the planning job to the park and recreation director’s assignment, but it seems to us that rather than looking to fill the position by hiring someone, city government needs to be creative.

Declining population

All decisions regarding employment must be made within the context of Youngstown’s declining population. It is now a city of 66,000, and yet, the government structure is one that was in place when the population was over 100,000. A medium-small city with a dwindling tax base must pursue down-sizing as an operating principle.

Mayor Jay Williams, who has drawn national and international attention because of the city’s planning blueprint called “Youngstown 2010,” has said that shrinking the physical size by vacating sparsely populated streets and creating green spaces is a key goal of the planning document.

A smaller Youngstown in population and size should mean smaller government.

While there are some members of city council who seem to believe that simply jugging money in the operating budget can pay for the positions of park and recreation director and chief planner, the reality is that City Hall cannot afford the $180,000 a year for salaries and benefits.

Indeed, the mayor and council may well have to think about cutting the payroll given that the city stands to lose $377,000 in state funding if Republican Gov. John Kasich’s biennium budget is adopted by the Republican controlled General Assembly.

The budget calls for a major reduction in the Local Government Fund, which funnels state dollars to counties, cities, townships and villages.

The governor has said that the reduction in state funding should prompt local government officials to be creative in their budgeting so services are provided with the revenue on hand.


1UnionForever(1470 comments)posted 5 years, 4 months ago

Youngstown should be positioning itself for smaller government and less spending by getting rid of all the non-productive public employees on the payroll, not adding more. The population is 66,000 and in freefall downward. It already has the highest income tax in the state which sends businessesand their jobs running away when they were considering locationg there.

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2George412(161 comments)posted 5 years, 4 months ago

It should be "Do more with *fewer* workers." Editing 101.

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3westside(47 comments)posted 5 years, 4 months ago

"We find the reaction of Jason Whitehead, the mayor’s chief of staff and interim park and recreation director for the past four years, to be just what the taxpayers of the city are seeking."

This line cracked me up, considering Whitehead's home at 2367 Fifth Avenue is tax delinquent and in bank foreclosure...

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4city_resident(528 comments)posted 5 years, 4 months ago

I agree that the city should be reducing the size of government whereever possible. But I disagree with them about hiring a city planner. This city needs a planner more than ever.

The way I see it, Youngstown is like an ailing tree. And right now, we are just hacking off dead branches. If we don't hire a city planner, we'll just continue to cut off dead branches, until there's nothing left. But, hiring a city planner is like hiring an arborist to properly prune this ailing tree. If done right, the pruned tree will get better, and may even begin to grow again.

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5Stan(9923 comments)posted 5 years, 4 months ago

Only when the decay ends will new growth for Youngstown get a viable start . The productive have fled, stores have closed, killings are rampant and the news of this has spread worldwide . We have however attracted members of the drug enterprise from Detroit . If we could only tax the drug wealth . . .. We have evolved into a new Youngstown where the culture revolves around decay .

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6Askmeificare(1245 comments)posted 5 years, 4 months ago

Salata, the 5th Ward City Council Candidate, is basically preaching crime prevention and running on an efficient city government platform.

Salata, it seems, is for common sense government. No other candidate is talking about reducing government.

Great article!

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7ytown_kills_me(67 comments)posted 5 years, 4 months ago

city planner...lol what was mayor jay before he became mayor....oh thats right he came up with the 2010 plan ....hey jay its 2011 anything better yet. roflmao...go away and please dont run for another office...and if we get a city planner then why would we need a mayor at all??? just to waste more cash.

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8NoBS(2834 comments)posted 5 years, 4 months ago

City-resident, your analogy is good as far as it goes, but what I see happening, not only in Youngstown but in the surrounding areas as well, is that along with pruning SOME of the dead wood, the tree is also being shaped to someone's agenda. "I never liked that branch" so even though it's healthy, it's cut off along with the dead one beside it. Other dead branches are not being cut because those doing the trimming refuse to acknowledge that they're dead.

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9city_resident(528 comments)posted 5 years, 4 months ago

NoBS, I don't understand your comment with regard to what a city planner does. Right now, the city just demolishes houses, with little rhyme or reason, and little effert appears to be given to any sort of plan.

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10PhilKidd(189 comments)posted 5 years, 4 months ago

(Part 1):

It’s ironic that Youngstown’s recent notoriety comes from city planning (ie. Youngstown 2010 Plan). However, Youngstown 2010 was a city-wide document. Implementation called for individualized neighborhood planning.

If qualified people are hired, a Planner and a Park Director can raise above and beyond their own salaries through grants for neighborhood and park development (ex. demolition, vacant lot repurposing, home repair, revolving loan funds for capital improvements, key park improvements & youth programming, and neighborhood marketing). When groups are supported with planning and targeted resource allocation (demolition, code enforcement, police) and private development (either by way of non or for-profit…which the previous often leverages), you get something like what is happening in the Idora neighborhood.

Parks: I don’t really think the need for (select) park improvements & more youth programming needs an endorsement, does it? There are many idle young hands in this community. Juvenile crime is literally terrorizing this city at such a rate that you can't begin to fathom it at times. The city has almost 40 parks. Most are small and could be let go. Some could be sold to adjacent entities (ex. B&O Station, Sheridan School for just a few obvious examples). Some could be turned over Mill Creek Park (which should be the end goal, generally speaking). The resources and focus should be on a few key city parks. The rest of the city is downsizing, why not the park system? Virtually no youth programming exists at present. No grant revenue for the park system is being raised. Jason Whitehead is NOT a Parks Director. I could write a great deal more on this / Jason but will just leave it there for now.

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11PhilKidd(189 comments)posted 5 years, 4 months ago

(Part 2)

When cities decline, particularly older industrial cities, these “soft” service positions (planning, parks, business attraction programs) are often the first to go. The focus and funding goes toward essential city services (ex. trash pickup, street paving, police/fire, covering budget gaps, etc). This happens until there’s nothing left to service. This is because no planning or investments were made when then needed to be made. Youngstown is walking down a reactionary & predictable path. Accordingly, we should not expect any different outcome in time.

If you want to talk about 'finding money' for these positions, then let's get serious (I'm going to beat the drum until it breaks): We have 100,000 less people then we did at our peak population but we still have EIGHT city council members who make $28K plus benefits (plus $10K each for discretionary spending / travel). The salary is supplemental to either salary from a full-time job or from retirement pension. Neighborhood groups and community organizations can apply for up to $5K through the Wean Foundation for projects. This could be multiple groups throughout the same Ward (council has $5K in discretion to spend through the ENTIRE ward). Travel/ continuing education can come from teaming with foundations and community organizations that can help pay. Or council can read reports given to them, web cam sessions, online forums, etc. There’s no excuse for not being able to get the information you want / need in today’s information age.

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12PhilKidd(189 comments)posted 5 years, 4 months ago

(Part 3)

1. Mayor forms a Charter Review Commission.

2. Cut council (ward) seats are cut from 7 to 5. Drop Council President. Savings: (aprox)$130,000K

3. Cut salary to $8K plus benefits (comparable to what other urban centers make and close to what Ytown City Council used to make no-so-long-ago) as well as discretionary and travel funds. Savings: (aprox) $150,000K

Total Savings: $280,000K

There. You have enough to hire your Planner & Park Director plus an admin person or two (or do whatever). Like anything, it’s just a matter of priority and will.

Of course, if we want to get REALLY serious about savings, we need to look at performance audits of folks who are actually on staff now, overtime & vacation / sick pay (the city doesn't have a centralized Human Resources Dept to track this uniformally which allows for tremendous abuse), how the city is being currently managed, department consolidations (ex. Community and Economic Development) and city-county merger / shared services. Also, we are only examining the Executive and Legislative branches. We haven't even touched on Judicial which is really something. But (all of this) is for a whole other discussion...

This is the type of change the community needs to be advocating / writing about. Picking on Planners and Park Director positions is like telling 8 people with the ABILITY to patch a hole in a leaking roof that it's not important to do so. It's a wasted opportunity for a necessary reform (in general), can provide a much greater return on investment for the same tax dollars and can be done if sacrifices (especially obvious ones) are willing to be made by the same people who are asking for the positions to be filled (despite the fact that the foundation of the house is starting to crumble as well). My two cents.

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13ice(28 comments)posted 5 years, 3 months ago


You should run for Mayor and just see how easy it is to perform your plan

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