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City budget gets OK

Council calls emergency meeting

YOUNGSTOWN — City council approved a $182 million city budget at a special meeting called out of concern over the COVID-19 outbreak.

Council was scheduled to meet March 26 to approve the budget, but decided late Friday that it was meeting Monday morning to approve the spending package.

“The city’s financial position in 2020 is better than it was going into 2019,” said Kyle Miasek, Youngstown’s interim finance director. “But with a slowdown in the economy from the virus attack, we’ll require belt tightening in 2021. What’s happened in the last month makes 2021 uncertain. We’ll live within our means in 2020. Youngstown is not the only city with this issue. We need to keep an eye on the budget. If the economy slows and income tax levels come up short, then it will impact us in 2021.”

The 2020 budget is about $8 million less than what was adopted last year.

That decrease can be attributed directly to the city having to spend $8.9 million last year for federally mandated improvements to its wastewater treatment plant. Before city council approved a 4-percent annual sewer rate increase for five years in December 2019, the state Environmental Protection Agency refused to loan Youngstown money for the work. That was because the city couldn’t show it had the resources to pay back the money. It forced the city to use surplus money from its wastewater fund to pay contractors for that work.

But after the increase was approved, the state EPA approved the loans, and it will replenish the wastewater fund.

Overall, the wastewater budget is $28.8 million this year, down from $36.9 million last year.

While city council hasn’t approved raising the water rate by $10 per month and reducing the environmental sanitation fund by the same amount, it already is included in the budget.

Council is expected to vote in April on the change and for it to take effect July 1.

The $10 change would reverse what city council did in 2015 to lower the water rate and increase the environmental sanitation fee. That generates $2.5 million annually for the environmental sanitation fund, which was used to hire contractors to demolish houses that had the additional expense of asbestos abatement.

However, that change caused the water fund to go from a $14,428,000 surplus on Jan. 1, 2016, to $2,151,000 as of Dec. 31, 2019.

Even with the adjustment, the city’s water fund will end this year with a surplus of less than $100,000, Miasek said.

“Water will have a surplus amount, but it will be very low,” he said. “We’ve got to manage that situation. If a major emergency has to be tackled, we don’t have much money for it.”

The 2020 water budget is $34.1 million compared to $35.5 million in 2019.

Among the major purchases this year is an estimated $285,000 upgrade to the fire department’s radio system.

The firefighters union had complained for about two years that the existing radio system doesn’t work properly.

Not included in the budget is the purchase of two additional snow-plow trucks for the street department.

But Miasek said he expects there to be enough money in the street department budget to purchase at least one new truck because of savings from having a mild winter.

The city added a new snow-plow truck to its fleet in December 2019 while two others arrived about two weeks ago after being on back order for close to two years. They were the first new snow-plow trucks in the city’s fleet since 2008.

dskolnick@tribtoday.com

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