Youngstown overcharged a health center for its water use for the past 22 years

Published: Tue, May 20, 2014 @ 12:05 a.m.

Youngstown officials work out deal to repay Wick Ave. facilitySFlb

By David Skolnick


City council will consider legislation Wednesday to refund $80,000 to the Youngstown Community Health Center, which was overcharged for water for the past 22 years.

The city installed a water meter at the health center on Wick Avenue in 1992 and incorrectly billed it since then, believing it had a 1.5-inch waterline rather than the 1-inch line it has, said Harry L. Johnson III, city water commissioner.

“We received complaints about the consumption of water at that location compared to their other locations,” Johnson said. “We concluded it was an error and then double-checked it and again determined it was an error. We’ve fixed the problem.”

The city and the center discussed the issue and determined Youngstown would pay $80,000 to resolve the matter.

Council will vote Wednesday on authorizing the reimbursement with the board of control likely following with a vote a day later.

Center officials couldn’t be reached Monday by The Vindicator to comment on the water issue.

Also Wednesday, council will vote to authorize the board of control to pay $50,000 to HCC Public Risk Claim Service, the city’s insurance company, to settle a federal civil-rights lawsuit regarding claims of police misconduct.

Desiree Johnson of Youngstown alleged police used “excessive and unreasonable force and searched and seized” her 12-year-old son at gunpoint “without probable cause or justification” in 2009. The boy was not charged with any crime. The lawsuit was filed in 2011.

U.S. District Judge Benita Y. Pearson sharply criticized the city in a Feb. 20 court order for “a pattern of federal rights violations” by police Lt. Kevin Mercer, “which appears to have been acquiesced to or tolerated by” Youngstown.

A tentative agreement was reached a few weeks ago. Terms haven’t been publicly disclosed. Mahoning County Probate Court also needs to approve the settlement.

“We resolved this to both parties’ satisfaction,” said city Law Director Martin Hume. “I anticipate everyone will agree to it.”

City council also will vote Wednesday to give authority to the board of control to approve three-year contracts with two employee unions. Both also need approval from the board of control.

Teamsters Local 377, which represents the 30 union members in the street department, has worked without a contract since Dec. 31, 2012.

The other tentative union contract is with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 2726, which represents 88 water department workers. That union has been without a contract since March 1.

“I’m happy we’re able to reach an agreement with both unions,” said Mayor John A. McNally. “I’m proud of how all the street department employees have performed since I took office, given the tough winter we endured. The same goes for the water department taking care of numerous water-main breaks as a result of the weather.”

Details of the two contracts are expected to be provided after Wednesday’s vote.

McNally said members of both unions will receive “small salary increases.”

McNally has been firm about no retroactive pay to 2013, but members of the police patrol-officers union last month received a 1 percent pay increase for this year and a 1.5 percent raise for 2015.

Those were the first pay raises for unions in almost four years.

Council expects to take action Wednesday on a contract with USA Parking to use the Park Place deck to provide parking for VXI Global Solutions employees. VXI, a call center, is the largest tenant at the city-owned 20 Federal Place. Its contract with the city calls for free parking for its employees.

For the past few years, the city has paid Community Bus Services to bus VXI employees to and from the call center to the city-owned Covelli Centre, where they parked for free.

That service is costing Youngstown $125,000 annually.

The USA Parking deal is for $108,000 for the first year, which begins June 2. The contract is for 17 months with the expense of the final five months increasing by either 3 percent or the Consumer Price Index, whichever is lower. The city could later negotiate an extension with USA Parking.

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