STEUBENVILLE - City Council and administration officials met behind closed doors for two-and-a-half hours Tuesday to discuss "personnel and contract negotiations" before listening to local residents ask for the Martin Luther King Jr. Recreation Center to remain open in the light of a looming general fund $822,968 budget deficit.
City Manager Cathy Davison said the executive session, "saw progress in us moving forward to correct the projected deficit. The council and administration have agreed on a plan to resolve the issue."
"Unfortunately, almost 90 percent of our general fund budget is salaries and benefits. We have requested the city unions to join the rest of us in reaching a solution to the projected deficit," said Davison.
Davison sent an e-mail following last week's special city council closed-door meeting to union representatives requesting the three city unions agree to changes in the employee health care program and a 7 percent cut in wages.
Davison, Law Director S. Gary Repella and Finance Director Alyssa Kerker met with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 2015 last week and with the International Association of Firefighters Local 228 on Monday.
She said she has not received a response from the Fraternal Order of Police Ohio Labor Council .
"We are asking union and non-union to share equally to resolve the deficit issue for the future of our city," Davison said following the Tuesday night council meeting.
"If we can resolve our deficit issues by Dec. 31 the worse case scenario we will be facing will be major cuts. I know there are people questioning why this is happening after the voters approved our operating levy during the election earlier this month. If the levy had not passed we would be looking for ways to make up an additional $570,000," stated Davison.
She said the city finance office, "will be moving a small cash balance to the 2013 budget.
Sixth Ward Councilman David Lalich, who serves as chairman of the council Finance Committee, said Tuesday night the deficit, "is especially stressful on city employees as well as the community."
"We are discussing difficult options. Personnel cuts may be necessary if we don't see cooperation from everyone. I hope all city employees consider their fellow workers who also have families when making their decisions," said Lalich.
Davison also met Tuesday morning with Jefferson County Commissioner Thomas Graham and Jefferson County Auditor Pat Marshall, "for discussions on collaboration."
"Councilman Lalich has discussed the need for regionalization of water services in the county. So, with the agreement from Commissioner Graham, I will be contacting the waterworks association and asking them to conduct a feasibility study on how we may be able to create a regional water utility," explained Davison.
"We will continue our discussions with the county and I believe we can move forward with collaboration efforts. Council will meet in executive session next week to continue to review our end-of-the-year projected budget deficit and our options in resolving the deficit," Davison noted.
Council heard from three residents who urged city officials to keep the MLK Recreation Center open.
"I understand the city is facing difficulties. But can we start a drive to save the MLK Center? I am afraid if the center closes there will be more violence because the youth will have no place to go," Terese Elder told the council members.
"I agree. I understand we are facing a deficit. But we are going to see more violence if the center closes. Children go there to play. Senior citizens go there to socialize and play games. I am asking you to please find a way to keep the MLK Center open at least a few days a week or a few hours a day," said Delores Wiggins.
During the meeting, council approved two ordinances as emergencies and supported a resolution opposing n Ohio House of Representatives bill now under consideration.
Council authorized Davison to proceed with a task order with MWH Constructors Inc. for repairs to the 100-year-old sewer line that runs under University Boulevard.
City officials have said the sewer line is in immediate need of repair and a void created beneath the brick and block sewer must be backfilled in order to avoid a sinkhole in the future.
Members also passed an energy service agreement as an emergency with Plug Smart for a review of all energy used by the city.
And, the council passed a resolution opposing the passage of HB 601 by the Ohio General Assembly which proposes uniformity measures for municipal income taxes.
First Ward Councilman Gerald DiLoreto reported a recent tire drop-off campaign coordinated by the city and the JB Green Team saw 503 tires brought to a collection center.
"Next, we are going to start cleaning up all of the mattresses that are dumped in the city," promised DiLoreto.
And John Poole of county Road 26 asked the city to replace a water line in his neighborhood that has broken several times.
"I am tired of buying heating elements for my hot water heater because every time the city shuts off the water to repair the line it acts as a siphon and drains the water from our local residences. In my case it drains water out of my hot water tank," said Poole.