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Youngstown fire contract to cost $1.3M

YOUNGSTOWN — The firefighters union contract city council expected to approved Wednesday comes with a $1.3 million price tag for the general fund.

Finance Director Kyle Miasek said at a Monday council finance committee meeting that most of the money will come due in 2023, the final year of the contract.

It will cost the city $53,000 this year, the first of the three-year deal.

It will cost about $280,000 in 2022 and then about $1 million in 2023, Miasek said.

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, 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, based on the conversation at Monday’s council meeting, officials have no immediate plans to hire anyone for that department.

Miasek said the fire department’s overtime and sick pay is high this year.

As of Sept. 30, the fire department’s overtime was $748,000. It was $664,000 for all of 2020, and $419,000 for all of 2019.

Also, sick pay through Sept. 30 for the department was $306,000. It was $410,000 for all of 2020 and $332,000 for all of 2021.

When told of the overtime, Councilwoman Samantha Turner, D-3rd Ward, initially was at a loss for words.

She later said, “Are you kidding?” and “How do we remedy this?”

Mayor Jamael Tito Brown said the city may look at options to reduce the fire department’s costs, including possibly closing fire stations.

Fire union officials have said the overtime and sick pay issues are up because the department isn’t properly staffed. Brown said Monday the staffing level was appropriate and some firefighters are out with long-term health issues.

With the salary increases for the firefighters, the rest of the city’s employees will see similar raises as it gives the same raises to its other labor unions as well as management and nonunion employees, Miasek said.

Council will vote Wednesday to give a 2 percent pay raise in 2021 and 2.5 percent in 2022 to its 149 management and nonunion employees. That will cost the city about $155,000 next year and $200,000 in 2022, Miasek said.

If the city doesn’t grow its income tax revenues, it may “need to re-evaluate the size of our workforce,” he said.

Miasek warned that the city is “facing headwinds and we have to figure out how we’re going to pay wages and benefits.”

Turner said she wanted a financial projection for the next few years in order to plan better.

“If we don’t make changes as a city, we’re going to have to shrink, (have) layoffs,” she said.

Over the past few years, the city has saved some money through attrition and automation, Miasek said.

The city has or will receive about $88 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds, which is allowing it to replenish the lost income tax revenue for 2020 and this year as well as pay employees for virus-related work and other expenses.

STREET PROJECT

Council’s finance committee spent about 30 minutes Monday discussing a proposed downtown street improvement project that could cost as much as $3.2 million with the expectations that half of the cost will be covered by grants.

Charles Shasho, deputy director of public works, said he was confident the city would have the money for its share of the project and if it didn’t, the work would be scaled back.

Turner said: “I don’t know if I’m as confident as you we’ll be able to cover this.”

The project, which would occur in 2023, is to Walnut Street from Front to Commerce streets, and to Boardman Street from Walnut to Market streets.

Councilwomen Lauren McNally, D-5th Ward, and Anita Davis, D-6th Ward, expressed concern that the city’s share of the project would result in fewer neighborhood streets being paved. Shasho said that money wouldn’t come from neighborhood paving.

Turner complained the project should have been in front of council a while ago with Brown saying if council had more committee meetings, issues such as this could be discussed.

As the conversation with council continued, it became obvious that Shasho was losing patience.

“If you’re not comfortable with the project, I can withdraw the” $1.3 million state grant application, he said.

Shasho also said: “If we want a discussion on how I apply for grants that’s something else.”

Council is to vote Wednesday on seeking a $300,000 federal grant.

Davis refused at Monday’s meeting to recommend passage of applying for the $300,000 grant. But Councilwoman Basia Adamczak, D-7th Ward and a member of the committee, recommended its passage with McNally, the committee’s chairwoman, also supporting it.

The finance committee didn’t discuss legislation to provide $1,000 bonuses to city employees to get a COVID-19 vaccination. There was a 3-3 vote two weeks ago and will be brought up for another vote Wednesday.

Adamczak, who missed the Oct. 6 meeting with the tie vote, said she will vote against the bonuses Wednesday.

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