A federal grant would slow overtime at the Youngstown Fire Department and keep a station fully functioning, the fire chief says

Published: Fri, September 1, 2017 @ 12:05 a.m.

City officials have yet to make final decision on accepting funds

By David Skolnick



A federal grant would help offset the cost of hiring four city firefighters and significantly slow down the overtime crisis that threatened to cut back on personnel costs at a South Side fire station, fire Chief John J. O’Neill Jr. said.

But city officials haven’t made a final decision on accepting the grant.

A Thursday announcement by U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Howland, D-13th, of a $398,793 federal grant came a few hours before a city council finance committee to discuss the fire department’s overtime budget.

“Myself, along with Mayor John McNally and all of the members of [the firefighters’ union] could not be more pleased and grateful to Congressman Ryan for his persistence in lobbying on our behalf for this grant award,” O’Neill said. “With the fire department funding at a point that would require the closure of one of our front line trucks as early as next week, this funding will now ensure that fire department staffing will be brought up to proper levels to protect the citizens of Youngstown.”

Without the impending new hires – which will bring the department from 123 to 127 firefighters – the city was almost certainly going to be forced to cut back on personnel and a truck at Fire Station No. 2 on West Indianola Avenue, O’Neill said.

The department’s overtime budget was $130,000 for the year, and is already at $225,000, O’Neill said. The department was on pace, before the grant, to spend another $200,000 in overtime, he said. Instead, about $30,000 more will be needed, O’Neill said.

The decision to scale back at the South Side station hasn’t been finalized as council asked the administration to look at options to come up with money to pay for the overtime already spent by the fire department.

But council members told McNally on Thursday to not cut back at the South Side station for at least another week.

Some members also brought up the possibility of not accepting the grant because it obligates the city to maintain a certain staffing level.

The department can hire four firefighters with the federal money – the grant pays 75 percent of the cost of the new employees the first two years and 35 percent for a third year – and have them on staff in a week to 10 days, O’Neill said.

The fire chief said it would be “such a large embarrassment to the city” to reject the grant, which is difficult to obtain.

“This crucial funding will prevent the department from having to decommission a fire truck,” Ryan said before the council committee meeting. “That would have been detrimental to the force, given that Youngstown firefighters encounter eight times the amount of structure fires than those of any other major city in Ohio.”

Finance Director David Bozanich said the city will have to look at the possibility of layoffs in all departments next year.

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