Youngstown city leaders had a heated discussion over the fire department’s 2020 budget. As some may recall, the department was under immense financial pressure in 2019, and now the issue of overtime costs ignited a lengthy conversation of who is to blame.
“Regardless of what you think, I don’t have control, you don’t have control, the mayor doesn’t have control over these guys reporting off,” said Fire Chief Barry Finley, during a heated meeting on Tuesday night discussing his department’s 2020 budget. The city’s interim finance director, Kyle Miasek, said last year the city initially budgeted for $40-thousand of overtime for the department, but that number increased to $116-thousand. Not including holidays.
“Once it was discussed that the administration was going to remove a truck and potentially brown out stations, we started having our firefighters decide, ‘Okay, I’m going to call off now I don’t care.’ So overtime nearly tripled,” said Miasek. Miasek explained that in the roughly first seven months of 2019, overtime costs were at about $30,000. And then quickly escalated by about $86,000 between August and December.
According to Miasek, the increase in overtime costs was unnecessary since a fire truck was taken out of service, and nine firefighters were free to fill in as needed. “We had nine floaters and still had overtime escalating,” said Miasek. “So it wasn’t just one or two, you had groups of them calling off on a given day.”
When the chief was asked what can be done about overtime concerns, his short answer was “nothing.” He said the union is entitled to sick days, and all he can control is the budget by potentially temporarily closing stations. “Do not get mad at me, do not get surprised if I am forced to brown out fire stations,” said Finley. “You’ve got a firefighter unit that is in total revolt, and they are using the system that they know very well to run up their overtime to benefit themselves at the expense of the safety of the citizens of Youngstown,” said Councilman Julius Oliver.
The firefighters union though, denies accusations of working the system. Firefighters Union President Charlie Smith said the department is understaffed by seven firefighters. “They’re saving money by not staffing us to the full amount and then turn around and blame us when they have to pay overtime, that’s not right,” said Smith. “We are very concerned about safety, but obviously the administration isn’t. If they’re willing to shut down a fire station, that says something about where their safety priorities are.” The budget the fire department is requesting for 2020 is about point-3 million dollars more than last year.
What is up for debate is how much city council wants to allow for overtime. The administration is requesting $60-thousand. The preliminary budget proposed by the administration for 2020 is balanced. Council will spend the next month reviewing the proposed budget for each department and making adjustments as they see fit. The next meeting is Tuesday, February 11th, at 4:00 to discuss the Police Department’s budget. It is followed by a 5:00 meeting to discuss downtown events.
Council has until the end of March to approve a 2020 budget.