Challenge for Youngstown: Do more with less workers

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.

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