Y’town mayor must face reality of shrinking city

During last year’s mayoral election in Youngstown, candidate Jamael Tito Brown seemed to be pandering to city employees when he insisted layoffs would be a last resort if he were tackling the projected $2.5 million to $3 million deficit in the general fund.

One month and 18 days into his term as mayor, it’s clear Brown is serious about wanting to keep city government’s payroll intact.

“I don’t want to send anybody home” has become the Democrat’s mantra as he works to erase the projected red ink in the forthcoming budget.

But truth be told, Brown, a former member of city council and the Youngstown Board of Education, will not have a choice when it comes to furloughs. That’s because Youngstown’s tax base is shrinking and the prospects of an influx of new taxpayers are slim to none.

There’s only just so much tinkering that can be done to government’s operating budget before the payroll is placed on the chopping block.

Last week, Acting Finance Director Kyle Miasek submitted to members of city council a deficit reduction plan that does not include job cuts.

Miasek, who had served as deputy finance director for many years under Finance Director David Bozanich, noted the deficit could be reduced from $2.29 million to $1.05 million by doing away with some big ticket items in the budget, such as $235,000 in police garage operating supplies and overtime in the police department.

Miasek also said $125,000 could be saved by taking the Community Initiative to Reduce Violence program out of the general fund and funding it with revenue from the city’s civil speed- citation initiative.

By not filling some vacant positions, the deficit could be reduced by an additional $125,000.

But even after the proposed cuts, the administration would still have to close a $1.05 million gap.

Confronting reality

Therein lies the reality Mayor Brown must confront. The chances of his administration making up the shortfall in the budget through an increase in revenue are bleak.

Given that employee wages and benefits take up most of the general fund, layoffs are inevitable. Handing out pink slips is never easy, but Brown wouldn’t be the first mayor forced to do so, and he won’t be the last.

Indeed, former Mayor Patrick J. Ungaro, who served from 1984 to 1997, slashed the payroll from more than 1,000 to around 800 during his tenure. Ungaro took office in the midst of record unemployment of more than 25 percent in the city.

Being mayor means having to make tough decisions. Fortunately, Brown doesn’t have to go it alone.

Since the beginning of the month, a retired certified public accountant has been assessing the city’s financial condition, evaluating the proposed 2018 budget, reviewing the long-term budgetary forecast and assisting in the search for a finance director.

Michael Abouserhal retired in July as vice president of finance and business services at Cuyahoga Community College and previously worked as chief financial officer for Cleveland Public Power and assistant director of finance and controller for the city of Cleveland.

Abouserhal, who is being paid $150 an hour up to $25,000 for the assignment that will last until April 30, was recommended by the office of Ohio Auditor David Yost.

We had urged Brown not to rush to replace Bozanich, who resigned Dec. 31 with a dark cloud of suspicion hanging over his head. He has been implicated in an investigation by Yost’s office of Youngstown developer Dominic Marchionda, who is facing more than 100 criminal charges related to his development projects downtown.

Investigators allege that Bozanich accepted a $25,000 bribe from Marchi-onda in return for paving the way for one of the projects. The former finance director has denied the allegation.

But given the questions raised about the way Bozanich conducted the city’s business, Abouserhal’s review is timely and necessary.

Having an outsider’s perspective of the finances is what the new mayor needs as he goes about eliminating the projected deficit in the forthcoming budget.

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