The reality of Youngstown’s fiscal crisis continues to manifest itself in the daily operation of government.
Fire Chief Barry Finley has launched a cost-saving initiative that requires the city’s fire stations to be temporarily closed on a rotating basis. The closures are necessitated by the fact that just six months into the year, the department had spent $105,854 in overtime of the $108,000 budgeted for the entire year.
Finley has said the department, which has been dealing with a workforce shortage, needs between $60,000 and $65,000 to cover overtime for the rest of the year.
Mayor Jamael Tito Brown has formed a committee of union and management officials to deal with the unsustainable and unjustified health insurance program for city employees.
They currently contribute 10 percent of the health insurance premiums, which is unrealistic in today’s workplace.
An independent financial consultant has recommended that employees contribute 20 percent of the premiums.
Youngstown’s fiscal crisis is also affecting the mayor’s ability to quickly hire a qualified, experienced finance director.
The position has been vacant since the end of last year when David Bozanich, the longtime fiscal officer resigned. Bozanich has been implicated in the criminal investigation of various downtown development projects.
The developer, Dominic Marchionda, is facing more than 100 criminal charges stemming from a scheme to funnel at least $500,000 from city funds to himself through various companies “to live his lavish lifestyle and enrich himself,” according to an indictment.
Marchionda is alleged to have given a city official a $25,000 bribe in return for his expediting the paperwork on one of the downtown development projects.
A source with knowledge of the state investigation has identified the city official as Bozanich, who has denied any wrongdoing.
The longtime finance department official resigned Dec. 31, just before Brown was sworn in as mayor. During the 2017 mayoral election in which he defeated incumbent John A. McNally for the Democratic nomination, Brown said he would not keep Bozanich on the city payroll if he became mayor.
Over the past seven months, Kyle Miasek, the deputy finance director, has served as the interim department head. Miasek has told the mayor he isn’t interested in being the finance director.
SEEK HELP FROM STATE
Brown had announced that he would conduct a national search, but in a story on the front page of the Sunday Vindicator, he said that the city would be hardpressed to come up with the $20,000 to hire a headhunter.
We believe the mayor should contact Ohio Auditor David Yost, who has shown a willingness to provide whatever guidance the city needs in dealing with its fiscal problems.
Indeed, it was Yost who recommended the hiring of Michael Abouserhal, a certified public accountant, to assess Youngstown’s financial condition.
Abouserhal retired a year ago 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 for finance and controller for the city.
In other words, he brought a wealth of experience in government financing to his assignment for the city.
In a detailed report, Abouserhal projected a $16 million deficit in the general fund if the administration and city council fail to take decisive action to cut spending.
The report contains a long list of recommendations for reducing the projected annual deficits.
We’re confident that Auditor Yost would be willing to assign his deputy auditors and others in the office to assist Mayor Brown in finding a new finance director.
But we wouldn’t be surprised if Yost, the Republican candidate for Ohio attorney general in this year’s general election, also tells Brown there’s no need to wait for a new chief financial officer to implement consultant Abouserhal’s recommendations for slashing spending.
The mayor, who made it clear during the election campaign that he did not want to “send anybody home,” cannot be blind to the reality that the payroll must be slashed. Employee wages and benefits take up about 80 percent of the general fund, which means true cost savings can only come from terminations, layoffs, elimination of raises, an increase in employees’ health-insurance premium contributions and other concessions.
We once again turn the spotlight on Abouserhal’s warning to Mayor Brown and other city officials:
“If decisions are not made, the city could end up in fiscal emergency. You need to focus on the deficit as soon as possible.”