YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio –
In an about-face, Youngstown’s fire chief announced that he would no longer look at reducing two-battalion chief positions through attrition to pay for changes to the department’s radio system.
“I am tired. I am tired of us giving and giving and giving,” said Chief Barry Finley.
Finley opened the public meeting with the change of mind by saying he will no longer look to reduce the number of battalion chief’s on the department because he feels young fire officers don’t have the training to fill in as safety officers if need be.
The chief and administration have been under pressure by the firefighter’s union to make changes to the radio system. The union filed a grievance and has pushed the issue toward arbitration. The cost of the changes is at estimated at $285,000.
Finley said the mayor wants to meet with himself and the union to talk about the radio system and how they’re going to pay for it.
Chief Finley also told the audience that the department is out of compliance with a federal safer grant. That grant requires the department to have 122 firefighters on staff, and the chief said they’re short three.
He said it’s not likely the federal government would make the city pay back nearly $400,000. But, it could hurt the city’s chances of securing future federal grants.
“Well, if you default on a federal grant it would be the same thing as going to a bank. If you default on a bank loan, you can’t turn around the next day and go back to the bank and ask for more money because the federal government will say absolutely not,” Finley said.
The chief also informed the public that his $40,000 overtime budget is more than halfway gone for the year and he had considered the need to close stations on a rotating basis, also known as “browning out” stations.
“I talked to the mayor, and I’m telling you this, we’re not browning out fire stations,” said Finley. “He just assured me his word that we are not browning out fire stations period. “
The question remains, though, how will the city find the money to pay for these challenges its fire department is facing?
Mayor Tito Brown tells us the city is no closer to finding the funding for the department’s radio system than before but is looking forward to brainstorming with the union.
The fire chief said he believes the mayor may use money saved from two recently vacated fire positions to help fund overtime.
If that’s the case, it’s not clear how leaving those positions open could impact the status of the city’s safer grant.
The city’s law director, Jeff Limbian, has said that to the knowledge of anyone in the law department the city has not violated the terms of the federal grant.