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Jim Melfi served Girard for 35 years, 24 as mayor

File photo / R. Michael Semple Girard Mayor Jim Melfi stands next to an ice-covered Upper Girard Lake in 2021 and talks about the efforts to sell the lake.

GIRARD — After 35 consecutive years of serving Girard, outgoing Mayor Jim Melfi will be leaving office at the end of the year.

Melfi began his career in politics in January 1989 when he was appointed as city treasurer, replacing retired treasurer John Maiorana. He then ran for the seat and won, serving for 11 years.

In 1999, Melfi ran for mayor and has led the city for the past 24 years.

“I know of no one who is even close to that many years of service here,” Melfi said.

He was defeated for the first time in the Nov. 7 general election by Girard Board of Education member Mark Zuppo.

“I always wanted to make the community better,” he said. “I have a bachelor’s degree in economics so that helped me as treasurer. Everybody who grows up in their hometown has ideas of how to make their town better. Some people act upon it, and some don’t.”

Melfi said as part-time treasurer, the city had its own income tax department and he oversaw the collection of $4 million in 8,000 accounts.

He said his uncle, Joseph Melfi, was mayor of Girard in the 1980s and his father, Nick Melfi, was safety service director, and this encouraged him to work for the city.

Melfi decided in the late 1990s to seek the mayor’s position so he could have a direct hand in making the city better.

“It is hard to be in this position for 24 years and not have your fingerprints on every corner of the community,” Melfi said.

When he started as mayor, Melfi said the city was in fiscal emergency for 10 years which “was a catastrophic financial collapse of the city.” He noted the city was ambitious in the 1990s, purchasing Girard Lake, widening Route 422 and building the new municipal justice center.

“Those three projects put the city in financial emergency,” Melfi said.

As the new mayor, Melfi said necessary changes were made in city government to emerge from fiscal emergency and make the city more efficient. The workforce was cut in numbers and he implemented changes to the way the city did business.

In 2007, the city’s largest employer, IndAlex, closed and took 300 jobs with it. The income tax was lost as well, which set the city back $500,000 annually.

“Just when we were working to get out of fiscal emergency, we had that misfortune,” Melfi said. “Then there was a recession and tax revenues were down. There was a lot of anguish for the city those 10 years. We did emerge from fiscal emergency in 2011.”

Vallourec then expanded into Girard and Melfi said he knew that would be important for the city.

Melfi said the plan was to form a joint economic development district for Vallourec and share the income tax between Girard and Youngstown.

“We knew this would be a huge benefit to Girard. But then there were issues that arose,” he said, noting Youngstown officials wanted the property annexed into their city.

Melfi credits attorney Frank Bodor, city law director Mark Standohar and auditor Sam Zirafi for being instrumental in aiding the city to make sure it received its fair share of money.

PROJECTS

Various projects were completed during Melfi’s time in office, including Liberty Park improvements, such as the swimming area, new soccer fields and other additions that brought familes to the park.

Also, additional properties were acquired adjacent to the Girard City Cemetery to create more lots. A mausoleum and collabarium also were built.

Senior housing also was added, including the $7 million Mid Rise Center on Washington Avenue.

“The city was in desperate need of senior housing. We wanted to have a facility we could be proud of. I convinced Trumbull Metropolitan Housing Authority that the city needed this and would support it,” Melfi said.

He said the Ohio Leatherworks property was a battle that lasted for “20 years of litigation.”

“We realized the city could not obtain grant money unless we owned the property,” Melfi said. “We later acquired the title to the property. We then acquired grants to test the soil to see where it was bad.”

The Ohio Leatherworks had been closed since 1969. Melfi said he was in fifth grade at St. Rose when a fire destroyed the business.

“We all ran down to watch the fire,” he said. “Who would have imagined 50 years later I would be the mayor when the city was able to get the property.”

Other projects include a $21 million addition at the water treatment plant. Sewer rates have not been raised since 2017.

Mefli said he will leave office Dec. 31 with “every fund in the black and apositive total balance in all the funds of $11 million by year’s end.”

“When you run the city like a business, there is less burden on the taxpayer. You can charge less and you don’t have to raise taxes,” he said.

Melfi said over his 24 years if office, property maintenance has become more difficult as he tried to make sure neighborhoods looked nice and were maintained. He added zoning enforcement, which helped keep neighborhoods looking nice.

“Whatever the improvement was, I wanted it done for the community,” he said. “It could have been a corner lot with high grass or debris and I wanted it cleaned up.”

JUSTIN LEO

Melfi said the most difficult event of his 24 years as mayor was the loss of police officer Justin Leo in October 2017.

“There was nothing more difficult for the city than the loss of Justin Leo. I will never forget that evening,” Melfi said. “Pat and Dave Leo, who were loving parents, lost their only child. That sits hard on my heart every day. I have never met people like the Leos, who have turned such a tragedy into a positive for the entire city. The Leos have established scholarships and Justin’s memory is everywhere. We think of him often.”

Leo was killed while responding to a call for help. He died in surgery after being shot in the chest by Jason Marble while responding to a domestic violence call at 408 Indiana Ave. Leo’s partner, Mathew Jamison, returned fire and killed Marble.

NO TIME OFF

Melfi said he took very little time off as mayor.

“Very few times a year could you come here on a business day and not find me,” he said.

Melfi said he and his wife, Nina, who is also retired, will spend more time with their three children, Jennifer, Nicole and Jimmy, and five grandchildren. They also plan to travel.

He thanked his wife, children and family for their support during his time as mayor.

“When you are the child of the mayor, it is not easy growing up,” he said.

Melfi said he also credits Safety Director Jerry Lambert, who has served with him for all the years he has been mayor.

“The city could not have succeeded as much as we have without support from Jerry. He has been a calming force all the time,” he said.

bcoupland@tribtoday.com

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