City considers fire station closing

STEUBENVILLE – City Manager Cathy Davison asked City Council Monday night to consider closing the Pleasant Heights fire station and laying off five firefighters in order to balance the proposed 2013 general fund budget.

Davison also proposed laying off three additional city employees to narrow a projected deficit in the water fund. But her latest proposal to balance the 2013 budget ran into immediate criticism from council members and officials with two of the three city unions.

“The only way I see being able to balance our budget is to close the Pleasant Heights fire station. That will see a one-time $1,500 expense of relocating the security camera at the fire station. But we will see a savings in utilities at the fire station and a reduction in fire department materials and supplies,” explained Davison.

She also said the city did not receive approval for a new Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response grant and will lay off two firefighters in March.

“We anticipate laying off an additional three firefighters when the Pleasant Heights fire station is closed. We will still be in compliance with the contractual manning level,” Davison told council members.

Davison made her proposals during a council finance committee meeting Monday night that saw several council members oppose a plan to not fill a patrolman vacancy in the police department.

The committee meeting was attended by several members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 2015, as well as International Association of Fire Fighters Local 229 President Chris Blackburn.

“I feel sheer disgust for whoever made this proposal and for any council member who agrees with the proposal. And my disgust should be shared by every citizen of Steubenville. The City Council is not acting in the best interests of the city but instead for their own personal agendas,” said Blackburn following the meeting.

“Safety is of the ultimate importance for every resident and for our firefighters. Closing the Pleasant Heights fire station will have a negative impact on our residents’ safety. I urge every city resident to attend tonight’s regular council meeting to voice their opposition to the planned closing of the fire station,” continued Blackburn.

“I hate to see any fire station closed. I would rather see cuts elsewhere like in the vacation pay in order to save money. We have some tough decisions to make and everyone should be part of the solution. We have done everything we can to balance the budget. The rest is up to the unions,” noted 1st Ward Councilman Gerald DiLoreto.

“You have to look at the impact of closing that fire station on residents in the 1st, 2nd and 3rd wards. We need to have a game plan in place for the safety of our residents,” 3rd Ward Councilman Greg Metcalf told Davison.

Davison’s recommendation to not fill a vacant police patrolman position faced opposition from several council members.

“I would like to see a fully staffed police force,” said 6th Ward Councilman David Lalich.

“I really have a problem not filling the police department vacancy,” added Councilman at large Kenny Davis.

Davison also proposed laying off a utility billing operator, a meter reader and assistant operator as a step to reduce a projected $561,333 deficit in the water fund.

Davis opposed the proposed lay-off of three city employees paid from the water fund.

“Cutting those jobs will impact services to our citizens. I don’t agree with those lay-offs at all,” added Davis.

“These numbers look nice but I don’t know how one person will be able to read the water meters. Seems to me you are putting a lot of work on one person,” said 2nd Ward Councilman Rick Perkins.

“The meters would have an actual reading one month and an estimated reading the following month. And if someone has a question about their estimated reading they can call in the numbers from their meter,” replied Davison.

“I thought the meter readers would be cut by attrition after the new meter system was in place,” said Lalich.

And 5th Ward Councilman Willie Paul continued to question why the most recent meters were never installed at commercial and businesses locations.

“When we reach the point of agreeing to a contract for a new meter installation, we can ask the focus be placed first on the commercial and business meters and then on replacing the residential meters,” said Davison.

Brian Young, president of AFSCME Local 2015, said he was “disgusted” by the proposed job cuts.

“We are facing a budget deficit and the council is considering getting rid of a meter reader that generates revenue for the city. It is a bad move at this time. I am also very concerned about eliminating an assistant water plant operator because it adds to the safety issues at the plant. We have guys working alone on certain shifts at the plant and the pump station,” stated Young.

Lalich proposed freezing the city’s budget and only making adjustments based on the inflation rate.

But Finance Director Alyssa Kerker said the city budget “has essentially been frozen because employees have not received a pay raise since at least 2009. Our budgets have been balanced each year by the estate tax payments. But that tax is now gone.”

And Metcalf warned of future financial pressures if the federal government fails to reach an agreement on budget cuts.

“Their actions could have a negative impact on us. We need to be cognizant of what the federal government will do and how it will affect Ohio and then us,” warned Metcalf.

Lalich cited the possibility of facing a finding for recovery by the state auditor’s office because the general fund may have to pay back the city’s enterprise funds as much as $339,041.

“Our independent auditors will start their testing in April and we hope to know an answer on that issue by May,” said Kerker.

Lalich also suggested a budget surplus could be used to open the Belleview Pool this summer.

But Law Director S. Gary Repella said the pool would require part-time workers, which would violate the AFSCME contract.