Budget Cuts Top Agenda

Steubenville City Council members will meet in special session Friday to review and consider cost-cutting ideas raised by union representatives Tuesday.

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 layoff notices issued Monday and to 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.

“I think we need to review the issues brought before us tonight,” said 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 allowances 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 said.

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,” he continued. “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.”

Council and administration also heard from residents, including local business owner Mark Nelson who encouraged city leaders “to take a deep breath and look at all of this … the whole situation.”

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.