Vote eradicates controversial bonus
City council nixes $1,000 payouts
YOUNGSTOWN — City council rejected legislation to provide $1,000 bonuses to city employees to get a COVID-19 vaccination — and this time it’s going to stick.
Council voted 4-3 Wednesday against the proposal.
It had voted 3-3 Oct. 6 with Councilwoman Basia Adamczak, D-7th, an opponent of the proposal, absent at that meeting.
Council President DeMaine Kitchen said after that vote that because the bill didn’t get a majority on its third reading, it didn’t pass and was rejected. No council members said anything afterward. But council Clerk Valencia Marrow informed council members after the meeting that their own rules state if there’s a tie vote, “the question shall not be resolved until the next council meeting.”
Two days after the tie vote, Mayor Jamael Tito Brown sent letters to all city employees asking them to provide information on whether they’ve been vaccinated against COVID-19.
Employees had until last Friday to respond, but Brown said he is having city health district officials confirm the validity of vaccination cards provided by workers.
Health Commissioner Erin Bishop said she expects to have the information finished sometime next week.
After the information is compiled, Brown said his administration will look at options such as requiring all city employees — there are about 700 of them — to be vaccinated against the virus or be subject to COVID-19 testing weekly or every two weeks.
“We’ll give a certain amount of time and if you’re not vaccinated, you’ll be tested,” he said.
Brown said he doesn’t plan to expand the indoor mask mandate that’s in place at city buildings, except the Covelli Centre, to other public places in the city.
“We’re focusing on what we can control,” he said.
Councilwoman Anita Davis, D-6th Ward, and co-sponsor of the COVID-19 bonus legislation, said she knew it wouldn’t pass Wednesday.
“I still believe it’s in the best interests of Youngstown,” she said. “Getting people vaccinated is important. But I’m pleased that even though we have our differences on council, we move on and don’t have to fight about it.”
In addition to Davis, the other council members to vote in favor of the bonuses were Samantha Turner, D-3rd Ward, and the other co-sponsor, and Jimmy Hughes, D-2nd Ward.
Councilman Mike Ray, D-4th Ward, who voted against the legislation, said: “I had overwhelming feedback from my constituents that they were not in support of the bonuses. The biggest thing I heard with (the city’s $82.7 million in federal American Rescue Plan) money is to have a long-term impact on the community. We can invest in citizens in better ways.”
Others voting no were Adamczak; Julius Oliver, D-1st Ward; and Lauren McNally, D-5th Ward.
Council voted 7-0 Wednesday in support of a three-year contract with the firefighters union.
The deal, approved Sept. 22 by the union, calls for all firefighters to get a 1 percent raise this year.
It also includes a 2 percent raise, effective Jan. 1, and a 2.5 percent raise, effective Jan. 1, 2023, for firefighters at the top of the pay scale, which is obtained after working nine years for the department, as well as for lieutenants, captains, battalion chiefs, the chief fire investigator and chief investigator.
Of the 116 members of the fire union, 32 currently are below the top of the pay scale, Finance Director Kyle Miasek said.
The department has 64 ranking officers and 52 firefighters
Effective Jan. 1, two more firefighters would hit the top of the pay scale and another 10 reach it in January 2023, Miasek said.
By Jan. 1, 2023, battalion chiefs would earn $79,601 in annual salary and firefighters at the top of the pay scale would get $60,548.
The contract also includes an increase to the starting pay by 46 percent, from $25,471 annually to $37,145 starting Jan. 1.
The city hasn’t hired a new firefighter in three years so the new starting pay impacts only future hires, and there are no immediate plans to hire anyone for that department.
Fire union President Charlie Smith said: “This contract is a good first step towards all the hardworking employees of this city seeing a fair and honest wage. We appreciate council’s support.”
Council also voted to increase the wages of the 149 management and nonunion employees in the city by 2 percent in 2022 and by 2.5 percent in 2023.
The 2 and 2.5 percent raises will be the standards for all city employees in 2022 and 2023 and unions that received smaller raises in those years will get their pay increased to match those amounts in future contracts, Miasek said.
Council also decided to postpone a vote Wednesday on applying for a $300,000 grant to help pay for a downtown improvement project to Walnut Street from Front to Commerce streets, and to Boardman Street from Walnut to Market streets.
The issue for some council members is the entire project could cost as much as $3.2 million with the city having to pay about $1.6 million. The remaining $1.3 million is expected to come from a state grant.
Some members said they were concerned that the city’s share would be too high and that another downtown project isn’t needed when there are issues in the neighborhoods.
Charles Shasho, deputy director of public works, who was visibly frustrated with complaints from council at Monday’s finance committee about the project, asked Wednesday if council was going to “kill the entire project.”
He added that the city could be leaving behind unused grant money.
After the meeting, Davis said she was adamant that she wouldn’t support the project at all.
“I’d rather see the (city’s share of up to $1.6 million) go to our wards,” she said. “Are you saying we can’t do anything in our wards with that money? It’s decorative. If you want to redecorate a street, do it in the wards. The city is not just downtown.”