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Youngstown seeks funds for new fire station

YOUNGSTOWN — The city is seeking state, federal and private funding for a new North Side fire station with the existing one closing Dec. 16.

Meeting Monday behind closed doors in city hall to discuss state and federal funding were Mayor Jamael Tito Brown; Nikki Posterli, chief of staff; Councilman Julius Oliver, D-1st Ward; Councilwoman-elect Samantha Turner, D-3rd Ward; Hunter Morrison, the city’s planning consultant; fire Chief Barry Finley; state Rep. Michele Lepore-Hagan, D-Youngstown; and Pearlette Wigley, U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan’s community development coordinator.

Lepore-Hagan said she and state Sen. Michael Rulli, R-Salem, agreed to make the fire station one of their top three priorities in the upcoming state capital budget. They will seek $250,000 to $500,000 for the project, she said. The facility is estimated to cost $3 million to $5 million.

“This would be a first step,” Lepore-Hagan said. “We’ll see what we can put together. We’ll seek funding in stages. We’d also request money in the state budget” in 2021.

Brown called it “seed money.”

He said he and Finley envision the facility as not just a fire station, but also a building with meeting rooms for senior citizens and youth, and possibly a fire academy where firefighters from the area could train.

YEARS AWAY

Brown said Finley has a few locations in mind for an eventual new station with the Belmont Avenue corridor being “one of the top locations he’s looking at.”

But that project is years away from coming to fruition, Brown and Lepore-Hagan said.

“We want to be as aggressive as possible,” Brown said. “We want state and federal funding as well as private investors. We talked with the congressman’s representative for federal money. Maybe we’d qualify for federal dollars.”

Lepore-Hagan, a North Side resident, said she urged Brown, who also lives on the North Side, not to close Station No. 7 at 141 Madison Ave.

“I’m not having a battle with the mayor on this, but I’m standing firm that we should be there for another year,” she said.

But the mayor said the fire station will close Dec. 16.

“We have no interest in extending a lease” that expires at the end of the month, he said. “It’s outlived its use as a fire station, and we’re moving into the future with our fire department.”

The downtown fire station at 420 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. will respond to fires on the North Side starting next week. Finley has said it won’t cause any safety issues while Charlie Smith, the firefighters union president, said the plan will create safety issues and longer response times.

The chief and the union have been at odds for several months over a variety of issues.

One was settled last week when the city agreed to upgrade the fire department’s radio equipment at an estimated cost of $285,000. The system is expected to be in place late next year.

MEDIATION

The two sides are in mediation over the union’s objection to the city reducing the number of battalion chiefs through attrition from six to three. One battalion chief retired earlier this month with another expected to leave in 12 to 18 months and no timetable for the third.

The union last Wednesday voted 90-17 in favor of a no-confidence vote against Finley, saying the chief has done a poor job of communicating what’s going on in the department with the firefighters, has created a threatening work environment, mismanaged the budget and failed to adequately address safety concerns and issues with “overall mismanagement and lack of leadership.”

Meanwhile, Brown said Monday he also asked Lepore-Hagan to include a request in the capital budget for a project that includes the development of “a small-scale grocery store as well as use it for workforce development to bring folks in and give people skills.”

A location hasn’t been determined, but Brown said that’s not a requirement to get money for this under the capital budget.