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Closing of fire station is delayed

Union sets no-confidence vote

YOUNGSTOWN — The planned Sunday closure of the North Side fire station has been delayed until Dec. 16 with city officials meeting Monday with a state representative to find potential funding for a new facility.

Meanwhile, the firefighters union — which opposes closing the station and other moves at the department — has scheduled a no-confidence vote for Tuesday and Wednesday for Fire Chief Barry Finley, said Charlie Smith, union president.

Finley had said a couple of weeks ago that Station No. 7, 141 Madison Ave., would close Sunday. But because of the Thanksgiving holiday, “I didn’t want them to have to move. The engine 7 crew will be downtown (at Station No. 1) no later than the 16th.”

Finley said the downtown station would respond to fire on the North Side after the 116-year-old Station No. 7 closes.

“I would never put anyone’s life in danger,” he said. “The distance from the two stations is 0.8 of a mile. We’ll still have a truck responding faster than the national average.”

Mayor Jamael Tito Brown said Wednesday: “I have confidence in the chief’s decisions.”

Smith said: “The city administration put zero consideration into this. It’s a lack of direction and decision.”

He added: “We’re concerned about the safety issues and the response times increasing once the station closes. It’s a good thing it’s staying open for a couple of weeks, but closing it is not what’s best for the North Side.”

NO-CONFIDENCE VOTE

Ongoing issues with the chief have led to the firefighters union having a vote of no confidence Tuesday and Wednesday, Smith said.

The issues include the chief using profanity when referring to firefighters, acting “like a bully and intimidating” his employees, Smith said, as well as ongoing issues including a plan to reduce half of the battalion chiefs through attrition, closing the North Side station and problems with the department’s radio equipment.

When asked about the vote, Finley said, “It’s disappointing, but I understand the morale of the department is low and I am the department head so at the end of the day I’m where it’s at. They have to do something.”

He added: “It’s what they want to do. It won’t impact my job at all.”

MEET WITH MAYOR

Finley, Brown and Councilman Julius Oliver, D-1st, whose ward includes the Madison Avenue station, will meet Monday in the mayor’s office with state Rep. Michele Lepore-Hagan, D-Youngstown, on the possibility of state money available for a new North Side station.

“My goal is to keep the (existing) fire station open for a year and construct a new one,” Oliver said. “We want to find state and federal money and grants to build a new station to keep that neighborhood safe.”

Brown said Lepore-Hagan wants to talk about “opportunities for money from (next year’s state) capital budget for future opportunities. She wants to sit down and see what can be obtained on a state level. I’m going to listen.”

Finley said: “Whatever happens, happens, but I’m hoping for the best.”

When it comes to the fire department, Brown said, “There are a lot of moving pieces and they should have been moved years ago.”

Lepore-Hagan, who lives on the North Side, said she wants to discuss the situation with city officials before commenting to the media.

The city’s lease with NYO Property Group, which owns the station, expires at the end of the month. City Law Director Jeff Limbian has said Dominic Marchionda, NYO’s managing partner, called to discuss a rental renewal, but the city administration isn’t interested.

“The city is not calling Dominic Marchionda back, but he’s willing to extend the lease,” Oliver said.

FOR SALE

Marchionda is looking to sell the Flats at Wick, a student-housing complex near the fire station, and the fire station would be part of a sale. Youngstown State University’s board of trustees last month authorized the university to negotiate a purchase agreement for the Flats, which was listed for sale for $8.5 million.

The station purchase by Marchionda in 2009 was included in a charge of engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity in an indictment last year against Marchionda and ex-city Finance Director David Bozanich. They’ve pleaded not guilty.

Finley and Brown are looking at four sites on the North Side for another station, but nothing is imminent.

Oliver had harsh words for Smith, saying the union president isn’t really fighting for the city, but to enrich himself and a few other firefighters.

“I’m fighting to keep the neighborhood safe and these dudes are fighting for themselves,” Oliver said. “I don’t want the city to be manipulated.”

Jonathan Blackshire of Baldwin Avenue — president of the Wick Park Neighborhood Association and vocal opponent of the closing of the North Side station — said he realizes the city doesn’t have a long-term future at Station No. 7. But “I was hoping they’d keep it open for a while until the city can open a new station. I’m hoping to see the mayor delay the timeline and come up with funding. It’s irresponsible to close the station when a new one could be built over time.”

He added: “There’s some grants out there to build a new station. I don’t want to get into specifics. I’m cautiously optimistic with this happening the mayor will listen to reason.”

dskolnick@tribtoday.com