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Council to regroup, review budget cuts

December 5, 2012
By DAVE GOSSETT - Staff writer ( , The Herald-Star

STEUBENVILLE - City Council members will meet in special session Friday afternoon to review and consider cost-cutting ideas raised by union representatives Tuesday night during a three-and-a-half-hour council session.

Members of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 228, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 2015 and Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 1 Ohio Labor Council filled the council chambers to challenge 11 lay-off notices issued Monday and cite efforts to work with city officials to resolve a looming general fund budget deficit by Dec. 31.

Several council members expressed interest in suggestions made by the union leaders with 3rd Ward Councilman Greg Metcalf calling for a finance committee meeting to discuss proposed budget-cutting measures.

Article Photos

Dave Gossett
PASSIONATE TALKS — Chris Blackburn, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 228 questioned City Council members and administration officials Tuesday night on plans to reject a Staffing for Adequate Fire & Emergency Response grant application and close the Pleasant Heights Fire House. Sitting with Blackburn was Dr. David Sullivan, vice president of Local 228.

"I think we need to review the issues brought before us tonight," cited Metcalf.

And, 5th Ward Councilman Willie Paul called for a special meeting to be held this week.

"Waiting a week is too long. We have to get something done as soon as possible," said Paul.

Paul also questioned vehicle allowances for council members and city department heads and indicated he will propose legislation next week to eliminate the allowance as a cost-cutting measure.

"My union members have not received a pay raise for the past four years. And now I have six people who are going to hit the street Friday. They are not going to have a good Christmas. I am tired of hearing we are not working with the city," AFSCME Local 2015 President Brian Young told council.

Young also presented council members with a copy of his proposals, including cuts regarding nonunion employees.

"We believe the elimination of car allowances will save $50,700, the elimination of part-time and seasonal workers will save an estimated $80,000 and an additional $7,200 could be saved with the elimination of cell phone and Internet for council members," noted Young.

He also proposed a $4 service fee for city utility bills that could raise $360,000 and the installation of parking meters to garner another $75,000.

"We are suggesting a total net proposed revenue and savings that would gain the city approximately $582,218," said Young.

"If you read (City Manager) Cathy's (Davison) comments, our union is being blamed for the closing of the Belleview Pool and possibly the Martin Luther King Recreation Center. Don't blame the union when the doors close at the center," Young stated.

According to Chris Blackburn, president of the IAFF Local 228, the firefighters reapplied for a new Staffing for Adequate Fire & Emergency Response grant, "to save the city $750,000 and keep the Pleasant Heights Fire House open."

"But the city manager rejected the grant before we even know if we have received it. We are not unreasonable, but we are being portrayed as the evil union. We knew for two years about the cuts the state was going to make in funding. Things should have been done two years ago. As far as the health care changes, I had no input on the health care committee. I just had papers shoved in my face," Blackburn said.

"The fire department has helped the city in every way possible. We lost four positions in 2011 and 2012. We voluntarily gave back a 3.5 percent pay raise in our last contract talks and we voluntarily gave back our clothing allowance for one year. We have also received a reduced operating budget for the past four years," remarked Blackburn.

"You keep attacking the unions. I'm not here to attack anyone. I am a citizen of Steubenville first and a fire captain and union president second. We have come up with practical solutions during a productive session tonight. I hope everyone was listening," said Blackburn.

Police Capt. Joel Walker of the FOP Ohio Labor Council did not speak during the council meeting but later said the police department "has agreed to concessions for the past six-plus years."

"We have given enough concessions. We are not going to put anything on the table and will wait to see what decisions the city makes," Walker commented.

"I want to thank you guys for what you guys have brought here tonight. This council will sit down and look at these issues. You raised some some things that we can really look at. We are going to try to get this fixed. We won't sit on our hands," 2nd Ward Ward Councilman Rick Perkins told the union members who packed the council chambers.

Council failed to pass emergency legislation to offer a $10,000 retirement or resignation program to city employees because three council members voted against the measure.

After a conversation involving Mayor Domenick Mucci, Law Director S. Gary Repella and Davison, Mucci announced the $10,000 incentive ordinance will now proceed through two more readings and city employees laid off this week will not be eligible to apply for the offer.

"We will also have to revise the deadline date for signing up for the offer," said Mucci.

He called the marathon council meeting "very productive."

"We are taking the proposals made tonight seriously and will move forward. With open dialog and transparency, we can move forward," Mucci said.

Council and administration also heard from several private citizens, including local business owner Mark Nelson who encouraged city leaders, "to take a deep breathe and look at all of this ... the whole situation. Everything is a little upside down here tonight."

City resident Mary Brown presented council with a petition containing 619 signatures asking for the MLK Jr. Recreation Center to remain open.

And, city resident William C. Watson criticized city officials for not telling residents the financial condition of the city earlier in the year.

"You didn't, and it was deceitful in our eyes," said Watson.

Pleasant Heights resident Sara DiCarlantonio said any plans to close the Pleasant Height fire station would be "detrimental."

"The people who work for the city are the bread and butter of our city. They do the work. You don't hear about city department heads or the city manager taking cuts. Why can't we go back to the strong mayor form of government. Why are we paying a city manager?" questioned DiCarlantonio.

City resident Lori Raymond urged the city administration to consider recycling efforts to cut costs and raise money.

"I coordinated paper recycling for the city schools for years and am now doing it for the Catholic schools. You not only reduce the amount of waste going to the landfill but you also make money from the recycling. I am willing to help the city in any way I can with recycling," Raymond said.

"These should be and could be temporary layoffs. This is a terrible time but we are going to discuss this further. City Council needs to make sure employees know these issues are going to be looked at. I think the safety forces are the most important thing we have. But we stand here to make decisions and we are going to discuss this," said Councilman at large Kenny Davis.

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