West Side fire station first to close today in Youngstown
By David Skolnick
The city today will close a West Side fire station through the end of the month and then shut down other stations every two weeks on a rotating basis to make up money the department needs to pay for overtime costs.
It’s a move that doesn’t please city council, the fire chief or the firefighters union.
The department has already spent about $81,700 of its budget of $108,000 for overtime this year and will hit the budgeted figure by mid-July, fire Chief Barry Finley said.
The issue, Finley said, is nine of the department’s 127 firefighters are off duty with injuries that occurred while on the job. That’s led to an increased need in overtime to make up the understaffing issue, he said.
The department needs about $60,000 to $65,000 to cover overtime for the rest of the year, he said.
Fire Station No. 15 on Schenley Avenue and McCollum Road will be the first to close and be shut down through June 30, Finley said.
For two weeks, starting July 1, Station No. 9 on East Midlothian Boulevard will be closed followed by No. 3 on Belle Vista Avenue for two weeks, Finley said.
The city’s eight stations will eventually all be temporarily shut down for two weeks as part of this rotation, he said.
Closing a fire station will free up at least three firefighters to work at other stations and cut down on overtime, Finley said.
“It’s a systemic problem that’s going to affect the entire city,” he said. “We’re going to do what we have to do.”
Fire Capt. Chris Weaver, secretary of the city’s firefighters union, said: “We’re not supportive of this at all. We want to keep everything open and running. We’re disappointed in city council. They’re not prioritizing public safety by not keeping all the firehouses open. You start closing firehouses in certain areas and you look at response times increasing.”
But Councilwoman Lauren McNally, chairwoman of the finance committee, said it’s the administration’s fault the fire department is in this situation.
“Council must be fiscally responsible and the entire administration must manage their budgets in responsible ways,” she said. “Browning out a fire station on a rotating basis is a bad solution to a problem that was avoidable in the first place. It leaves the city exposed at any given time in any given part of town. If the administration decides to brown out anything it should only be a truck thereby leaving all stations open. I do not support this decision.”
The administration initially suggested to council that the city use most of an $85,000 fund to replace the rusted frame of a fire truck to cover the overtime increase.
But council members rejected that proposal saying a longer-term solution is needed.
“I do not believe that the long-term solution to Youngstown’s financial situation is through cuts,” McNally said. “Cuts get us from today to tomorrow, but not from today to five years from now. Economic development gets us there. Attracting more businesses and diversifying our tax base is where our focus and energy needs to be. I truly hope the administration will find a better and longer-term solution than what they currently have presented to council regarding the fire department.”
The city’s general fund is budgeted this year to end with only a $12,000 surplus.
A forecast given last year by a CPA hired by the city states that if Youngstown doesn’t make significant changes to its financial situation it will face a deficit of about $16 million in its general fund by 2023.