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Layoffs set for city employees

More changes in Steubenville’s future

November 30, 2012
Weirton Daily Times

STEUBENVILLE - City Manager Cathy Davison said Thursday evening layoff notices will be issued next week to 12 city employees, and she will recommend two police department vacancies not be filled and the city not accept a possible renewal of the Staffing for Adequate Fire & Emergency Response Grant that will mean three firefighters will be laid off in March.

Davison also announced the Martin Luther King Jr. Recreation Center will remain open this winter with three full-time parks and recreation employees replacing part-time recreation aides currently working at the center.

"We are planning on moving our three full-time parks and recreation department employees to staff the Martin Luther King Recreation Center during the winter months. That will mean the three part-time recreation aides at the MLK Center will be laid off in compliance with the AFSCME labor contract.

And, Davison indicated additional steps are set to begin as the city administration and City Council members face an end-of-the-year general fund budget deficit of $822,968.

The layoff notices to employees represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 2015 will prompt the affected workers to consider six vacant jobs in the city table of organization, according to Davison.

AFSCME Local 2015 President Brian Young accused Davison of forcing senior employees to accept lower-paying jobs.

"The city administration is displacing people with 20 or more years of service. I am totally fed up. There is no reasoning for what is happening here. And there is no talking with her (Davison) anymore. Right now we have an assistant water operator with minimal experience manning the water filtration plant by himself because overtime is no longer allowed by the city manager," Young said following a union membership meeting Thursday night.

"There are going to be a lot of grievances filed because of this. We have not had a pay raise for the past four years and she was asking for us to take a 7 percent pay cut," Young said.

Chris Blackburn, president of the International Association of Firefighters Local 228, said today he will talk to the union attorney regarding possible legal action.

"We have a minimum manning clause in our contract that the city is now violating. We have seen four fire-related fatalities during the past year and we are now entering the fire season with heating fires and Christmas light accidents. The city administration and council are showing total disregard for our safety and the safety of our citizens," said Blackburn.

"We passed on a 3.5 percent pay raise and could not accept her request for an additional 7 percent pay cut. We continue to be slapped in the face. We are saving the city $100,000 a year. As a firefighter and a taxpayer living in Steubenville, I am outraged by these antics. If we get a major fire call we will not be allowed to call out off-duty firefighters. We will have to ask surrounding communities for mutual aid and hope they can respond," stated Blackburn.

"We are not the evil union. We have taken concessions to help the city. We are trying to protect the residents of Steubenville and we want to go home at the end of our shift. I know a number of union members plan to attend Tuesday night's regular council meeting and I urge all citizens to be at the meeting to express their concerns. The citizens of Steubenville need to question who is making these decisions. Our citizens should be outraged," he said.

Blackburn also said a cut in fire personnel may prompt the closing of the Pleasant Heights fire station.

"We anticipate the next decision to be announced will be the closing of that fire station, which will be a mistake. We are an older community with a number of older houses and buildings," he added.

Administration officials met Thursday with the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 1 Ohio Labor Council representatives and officials from the AFSCME Local 2015 before announcing the layoffs.

"Our union representatives told Cathy and the administration we were not accepting the 7 percent pay cut. And we continue to remain concerned about the safety of our police officers as they work very hard to protect the citizens of Steubenville," said FOP President Jim Marquis.

The personnel decisions announced Thursday night also will set the stage for contract negotiations set to begin in 2013.

The police union contract expires in May, while the firefighters' contract ends in December 2013, and the AFSCME union contract is set to expire in March 2014.

"I have continued to request cooperation from the (city) unions, but without any I have no choice but to make tough decisions while trying to maintain services for your residents and businesses," Davison said in a Thursday evening statement.

"There will be additional things to take effect in the final month of the year," she added in a telephone interview.

"We are considering looking at our natural gas costs through a partnership with Buckeye Energy. We announced a $10,000 incentive program Tuesday night to encourage eligible employees to consider retiring. And, we continue to discuss possible collaboration efforts with Jefferson County officials in order to provide services to our community," said Davison.

"It is never easy to make difficult decisions like these. Steubenville is not alone. Communities across the state are facing difficult decisions like this every day across Ohio and the country," she added.

Davison said several city employees have expressed interest in the $10,000 incentive plan that was introduced at the Tuesday City Council sunshine meeting, "but no one has signed up for the offer. The employees have until Thursday to officially register their interest."

Earlier this month Davison requested employees represented by the three city unions agree to changes in the city health care program as well as a 7 percent pay cut.

"We are asking union and non-union workers to share equally to resolve the deficit issue for the future of our city," Davison said last week.

"If we can't 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," she stated.

Davison and the Recreation Board announced this month the Belleview Pool will not open in 2013.

The city manager also met with the city board of health this month to discuss more collaboration with the Jefferson County Board of Health.

Davison has cited the cuts in Local Government Funding from the state and rising utility costs as the main reasons for the deficit.

"We have been discussing all of our options and reviewing Cathy's recommendations and the council is in agreement with these decisions. It is unfortunate we have reached this point but we are legally required to resolve the projected budget deficit by Dec. 31," stated 6th Ward Councilman and Finance Committee Chairman David Lalich.

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