City wouldn’t choose capital improvements over employee layoffs

By David Skolnick


If Youngstown’s 2013 budget didn’t include $2,857,935 from V&M Star to lease land, city officials said they would reduce funding for capital-improvement projects and equipment purchases rather than lay off employees.

“I’d never support layoffs to buy a truck,” said Mayor Charles Sammarone. “The equipment is definitely needed, but I wouldn’t lay someone off to buy” it.

City council met Monday to review the proposed $167.8 million budget that includes $7.3 million for projects and purchases.

Council members had budget hearings with department heads between Jan. 14 and March 11 without having a complete budget document. Council received the budget Friday.

Council members had few questions about the budget Monday. They’ll vote Wednesday whether to approve it.

The $7.3 million being spent for projects and purchases is more budgeted for those purposes than in at least the past 25 years, said city Finance Director David Bozanich.

The V&M lease for land the company used for its $1.1 billion expansion calls for V&M to provide $2,857,935 annually for this year, 2014 and 2015.

The city also will use the $1 million it expects this year in state casino funds, about $2.5 million to $3 million it saved this year from an employee early- retirement buyout and carry-over money not spent from the 2012 budget for the $7.3 million fund.

The city reduced about 50 employees from its workforce last year largely through the early-retirement buyout.

Because of that, the number of staff for the city is about 725, down from close to 1,000 a few years ago, officials say.

Without those windfalls and retirement savings, the capital-improvement projects and equipment purchases would have been significantly scaled back, city officials say.

“I would never suggest laying off people as our first option,” said Councilwoman Janet Tarpley, D-6th, chairwoman of the finance committee. “We’d look at the capital improvements.”

Councilwoman Annie Gillam, D-1st, a member of the finance committee, agreed.

“I don’t want to lay anyone off,” she said. “Our employee level is bare-bones.”

Both said they are very pleased with the $7.3 million for projects and equipment.

“It’s kind of astonishing the amount we are spending on capital improvements,” Tarpley said.

Some of the items on the list, including $110,000 bridge replacements at the East Side’s Lincoln Park, for example, could be delayed, Sammarone said, because “priorities can jump up that wipe out most of the capital- improvement budget. I hope not, but you never know.”

The administration has a “high confidence level not only this year but money for capital improvements next year,” Bozanich said. “We’re comfortable [we can afford] what we have on the list,” but some will wait until the end of the year to be sure.

The most-expensive item on the list is $1.2 million for new elevators at the city-owned 20 Federal Place downtown office building. The elevators and about $275,000 for window replacements to the building were part of contracts signed in 2009 and 2010 with VXI Global Solutions, a call center at the building and its largest tenant.

Other items include $700,000 for a new fire station on Midlothian Boulevard, $280,000 for two new snowplows, $183,800 for five new police cars and $174,460 for equipment needed by the street department to demolish vacant houses.

For several years, the city’s budgeting plan has council having hearings with department heads without a complete budget. Council usually gets the final spending plan a few days before voting on it. Council must approve a budget no later than March 31.

Except for the timing of receiving the budget from the administration, most of Ohio’s most-populous cities follow a similar formula.

According to city-hall reporters at newspapers based in those cities, the process, including budget hearings, is essentially the same.

In Akron, council starts budget hearings with the financial proposal in the hands of its members in February. The budget is approved by council in March. Akron council approved the 2013 budget March 11.

In Toledo, the mayor gives the budget document to city council by Nov. 15, and council has until March 31 to approve it. It’s usually approved in January.

In Columbus, the mayor gives a complete budget to council by Nov. 15 with council approving it in January or February.

In Dayton, the city commissioners have hearings in November and December, and then approve a final budget in late February or early March.

Cincinnati is changing its budget schedule. Council there used to get a full budget proposal from the administration in late November with a vote a month later. The city is changing the start of its fiscal year, beginning this year, to July 1 with the administration providing a budget in May and a council-approval deadline of June 30.

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