Hard-Hit Youngstown Loses 108 City Workers

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (AP) - The former steel city of Youngstown, hit by the loss of a drugstore chain headquarters, a private prison and most recently its congressman, is losing more than 100 of its 625 city employees -- many from public safety.

The city announced the layoffs of 60 workers this week and has accepted buyouts from another 48 employees.

Mayor George McKelvey said the cuts are the result of an anticipated $2.5 million deficit, largely from a drop in income and inheritance taxes.

"Our so-called economy has been hit with a financial lightning bolt," McKelvey said Thursday.

The city, still trying to recover from the loss of thousands of steel jobs more than 20 years ago, has received even more bad economic news in the past year.

Its $49 million budget is taking a hit because of the closing of bankrupt Phar-Mor's headquarters, where about 200 were employed.

Last year, the city's private prison closed, eliminating more than 500 jobs.

The losses come at a time when the city is trying to turn itself around by building a convention center downtown and a new industrial park next to its regional airport.

They also come the same week that residents lost their longtime congressman, James A. Traficant Jr., who was expelled from the House following his April conviction on bribery and racketeering charges.

McKelvey said the city's deficit is also the result of a $900,000 drop in inheritance taxes and a $1 million increase in health insurance costs for city workers. The city also lost $1 million in grant money after President Bush discontinued the COPS program, which funded the hiring of police officers.

The layoffs and buyouts include 55 police, fire or 911 workers.

"Those are serious numbers," McKelvey said. "The last thing I want to do is lay off a policeman or fireman."

Police Chief Bob Bush said he expects the department's response time to emergency calls won't be affected by the layoffs.

"However, our response time to non-emergency calls or report calls will run a little higher than normal," Bush said in a statement.

Fire Chief John O'Neill said two of the city's eight fire stations will close. He said the department's ability to respond to simultaneous multiple fires will be impaired.

The layoffs will begin with those with the least seniority and go into effect by mid-August. Besides safety forces, layoffs were made in the city's finance, public works, parks and health departments.

"If we do not see additional revenues coming in to our system, we have no alternative but to cut deeper," McKelvey said.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)