It may seem that Youngstown Mayor Charles Sammarone has a one-track mind on the issue of housing demolition, but just take a drive through the city’s blight-ridden neighborhoods and you’ll understand why.
Indeed, Sammarone’s view was reinforced not long ago when an out-of-town journalist who toured Youngstown voiced surprise that a small city would have so many dilapidated structures.
In the mayor’s view, it’s a vicious circle: As neighborhoods are overtaken by blight, people living in better-kept homes move out. Those vacant homes aren’t easily sold or rented, and over time, left unattended, they become an eyesore. That exacerbates the neighborhood problem.
“It’s like a cancer,” the mayor says.
Sammarone has launched an aggressive demolition campaign designed to stop the cancer from spreading to more stable areas of the city.
There are so many homes that need to be torn down that even the financial windfall the city is receiving from the state won’t be enough.
The mayor has set a target of 500 vacant, uninhabitable structures paid for with $1 million from the Ohio Attorney General’s Office and another $1 million committed from the city’s general fund.
But he would like to tear down a total of 1,000 structures by the time his term in office is up at the end of 2013.
Where will that money come from? The $2 million in savings the city will realize next year from the early retirement of 52 employees. The savings could grow to more than $3 million in subsequent years — if the jobs that are vacated remain unfilled.
“We’re not going to hire anybody to replace those retiring unless those positions are definitely needed,” Sammarone says. “If management positions are needed, we’ll start the salaries at 20 percent less” — than what those who retired were making.
In a city with a shrinking population, stagnant tax base and a growing number of residents on fixed incomes, government in its current form cannot be sustained. More than 80 percent of the operating budget goes for salaries and benefits.
The mayor’s decision not to fill vacancies — or to find a cheaper way of doing business — is deserving of private-sector taxpayer support.
Right-sizing of Youngstown is long overdue.
Attacking slum and blight is a priority; giving jobs to relatives or friends of politicians is not.
Once an individual is put on the public payroll, it’s just about impossible to get him or her off it.
Residents in the blight-ridden neighborhoods — crime is either a cause or effect of the deterioration — have been fighting a losing battle for years.
Given that there are between 2,000 and 4,500 dilapidated residential structures in Youngstown that need to be torn down, any savings from a reduction in the number of employees or an increase in revenue should be dedicated to this important endeavor.
But a costly impediment to the city’s demolition campaign is the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s requirement for the proper removal of asbestos before a structure can be torn down.
It’s an expensive proposition. For instance, Sammarone hired CT Consultants of Youngstown to oversee asbestos testing and construction inspection, and Environmental Protection Systems of Girard to remove asbestos from 300 to 350 vacant residential homes.
CT Consultants will be paid $1,059 per structure, while Environmental Protection will receive at least $550,000.
The mayor, like his predecessor, Jay Williams, who is now working in the White House, thinks the federal regulations are unnecessary and a waste of time and money. Williams had the same opinion.
The EPA should reexamine the asbestos regulations — and former Mayor Williams needs to intercede on Youngstown’s behalf.