We are used to govern- ment, especially at the local level, acting in mysterious ways. But the decision by Youngstown Mayor Jamael Tito Brown to launch a new grass-cutting program that isn’t delivering as much as the one that was in place from 2015 to 2017 is a real head-scratcher.
Brown, who has been in office since January, decided that $30 per cut for vacant home lots is a better deal for the residents of Youngstown than $10 per cut.
And, the mayor is of the opinion that contracting with seven entities rather than one that delivered quality service is the best way to go.
Brown was not available for an interview with Vindicator Reporter Graig Graziosi, whose expansive story detailing the administration’s plans was published June 1.
Here’s the bottom line of Graziosi’s investigation: Fewer grassy lots of vacant homes will be cut by the end of the summer even though city government has budgeted for the same number of cuts it paid for last year.
What gives? We could speculate, but we’re willing to provide the mayor a chance to explain his decision.
Meanwhile, here are some facts that give us pause:
The Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corp. handled the grass-cutting program between 2015 and 2017 and averaged 10,000 cuts each year.
YNDC charged the city $10 for each cut.
Under the new program developed by the mayor, the following seven contractors will handle grass cutting: Dare to Dream Foundation, Tucker and Son’s Lawn Care, United Returning Citizens, Art’s Lawn Care, Phylum LLC, Eartha Shade Enterprises and Craig’s Lawn Service. Each cut will cost city government – in actuality, the taxpayers – $30. Because of that, only 6,600 cuts will be completed this season.
YNDC had sought $25,000 more than the $200,000 it had been receiving in order to hire additional laborers and to cover increased management costs. The corporation had formerly relied on the Mahoning Columbiana Training Association’s Summer Youth Employment program to provide the workers, but changes in the program put an end to that relationship.
Given the recent dire warnings about the city’s imploding budget, was the additional $25,000 justified? It was – if documents provided to The Vindicator by the YNDC are to be believed.
Last year, the grass-cutting program generated $501,971 for the city’s coffers, which resulted in a surplus of $308,833 after all the expenses associated with the program were covered.
Now contrast that with what occurred in 2014 when independent contractors handled the grass cutting. The city lost $119,241.65 because there were only 2,897 cuts that brought in $2,320.
Absent an explanation from Mayor Brown for the discontinuation of YNDC’s contract, here’s how Deputy Finance Director Kyle Miasek framed the new approach to grass cutting of lots at vacant homes.
“In the past we had a contract over the length of the summer. Now we’re doing it by cut. We were paying monthly for the cost of the employees at YNDC. They were tackling properties every day and we essentially had unlimited cuts. Now because we’re working with contractors, that $200,000 can only cover so many cuts.”
Reading between the lines of Miasek’s statements, it becomes clear there was no economic basis for the city getting rid of YNDC and hiring seven new entities.
Who are these contractors and what experience and knowledge do they possess that justify $20 more per cut than what YNDC was charging?
Do the entities have the financial wherewithal to cover any emergencies while on private property?
In politics, perception is reality, and absent a compelling reason for the change, the perception is that Mayor Brown had personal reasons for getting rid of YNDC.
The Democratic officeholder already has had to deal with the negative publicity surrounding his purchase of a brand new SUV with taxpayer dollars at a time of fiscal uncertainty.
Layoffs in city government are coming, which is why we urge Mayor Brown to think about the messages his decisions are sending to the residents of Youngstown.