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CARES funds cover Youngstown budget shortfall

YOUNGSTOWN — The financially strapped city is going to use $2.92 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds to help close its budget gap.

“I’m going to use it to cover expenditures we incurred to prepare and maintain services because of COVID-19,” Kyle Miasek, interim finance director, said. “I’m going to go through payroll and dates and come up with calculations on work done as a result of COVID-19 and reimburse us for those expenses.”

Also, he said the city could receive an additional $2.36 million in federal COVID-19 dollars.

Miasek said Monday that the city administration plans to use the $2,922,024 its going to get through the state distribution of federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act for COVID-19 expenses.

That includes expenses for the police, fire, 911, health, sanitation, finance and law departments, Miasek said during a city council finance committee meeting.

About 15 to 20 percent of the salaries of police and other departments — and about all of the health department’s expenses — went toward COVID-19-related expenses and the CARES Act money will be used to offset those costs, Miasek said.

Other expenses include overtime and fringe benefits the city had to pay when firefighters were off the job because they contracted the virus, he said.

The administration is going to finish documenting COVID-19 expenses in about three weeks so the money can go toward those costs, Miasek said.

City council will vote Wednesday on creating a CARES Act fund and separate legislation to appropriate $2,922,024 into the fund “for payroll expenses for public safety, public health, human services and similar employees whose services were substantially dedicated to mitigating or responding to the COVID-19 public health emergency.”

Through the first six months of the year, the city’s income tax is $1,902,000, or 5.9 percent, under budget. The city could see further losses and end 2020 about $2.7 million to $2.8 million less than the $46,214,000 projected income tax collection for the year, Miasek said.

The money from the CARES Act can help make up that shortfall, he said.

The city may also purchase software to allow people to apply for city jobs online rather than come into city hall, and buy laptops for city employees working from home, he said.

Miasek said he also anticipates an additional $2,359,224 in CARES Act funds that can be used to help the general fund and for other COVID-19-related expenses.

POLICE GRANT

City council also Monday discussed an $817,310.40 federal Community Oriented Policing Services grant that would pay about three-quarters of the costs of the salary and benefits of eight police officers over three years with the city making a local match of $250,515.04.

Miasek said there was initially some concerns about committing to the grant as the city’s finances are uncertain and there’s the possibility of layoffs to balance the budget.

But new police officers wouldn’t be hired until next spring so that will be resolved by then, he said.

“At the beginning of next year, if we are short money, we don’t have to accept the grant,” Miasek said.

Police Chief Robin Lees said 143 officers are in the department when the budget calls for 150.

“Over the next year we have to hire at least eight,” he said. “We can either get help hiring them with this grant or do it with the cost entirely our responsibility.”

Since March 2018, the department has lost 31 officers to retirement or resignation and hired 18, Lees said.

At least two officers will retire by the end of this year, he said.

It will take a few months for a new civil service test to be administered and an additional few months for background checks before new patrol officers could be hired, Lees said. That means it would be next spring before new officers start, he said.

“This is great news as we need the officers and most of the cost will be paid by the grant for the first three years,” Lees said.

Council members agreed Monday to vote Wednesday to allow the board of control to enter into the agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice for the grant. But they are expected to move legislation appropriating the grant to council’s safety committee in order to determine if the grant will be used next year.

If the city doesn’t make any hires using the grant, it is like it didn’t accept the money as it’s a reimbursement, Miasek said.

dskolnick@tribtoday.com

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