Custodial staff suffers in first set of layoffs

The facilities and maintenance staff will be reduced from 22 to 12.
YOUNGSTOWN -- The first of several rounds of layoffs of Mahoning County employees attributed to the loss of sales-tax revenue will begin with the furlough of 10 members of the county's facilities and maintenance staff in early March.
Richard Malagisi, facilities manager, said eight custodians, the custodial manager and a secretary will be handed pink slips.
Letters will be sent to the employees early next week giving them their official layoff date, county commissioners said Friday.
The county lost one-third of its revenue when voters twice failed to renew a half-percent sales tax last year. The tax expired Dec. 31.
Picking up the slack
Malagisi said the layoffs will leave him with just 12 people, but they are in the skilled-trades area and primarily handle repairs of machinery, plumbing, electrical and other similar work at county buildings.
"They will end up doing custodial work when they can," Malagisi said.
Commissioner Anthony Traficanti, board chairman, said the layoffs are being made in accordance with union contract provisions. The facilities personnel are members of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 1156.
"This is going to hurt," Traficanti said. "Those maintenance people that remain will have to do double duty."
The custodians clean bathrooms, mop floors and empty trash containers at the county courthouse, the jail administration building next to the courthouse, the South Side Annex on Market Street, and the county's area courts in Boardman, Austintown and Canfield.
Malagisi said the last time custodians were laid off was in 1999, again after a half-percent sales tax went down to defeat. At that time, large trash receptacles were placed in courthouse hallways and other areas for department heads or their staff to dump their trash.
Replacement of soap, toilet paper and paper towels in bathrooms will probably be done on a weekly basis, Malagisi added.
Malagisi said he had 27 custodians and maintenance workers at the time of the 1999 layoffs. He was allowed to call back just 22. At one time, the county had a total custodial and maintenance work force of 40, he added.
The facilities manager said most of the $1.6 million budget he received this year is for paying utility bills at the courthouse, annex and jail administration building. He had requested $2.5 million for 2005.
He said that if the utility rates rise above projections, "we may have to lay off someone else."
Mark Bartol, president of Local 1156, said the layoffs are a "travesty, especially with all the buildings we have to clean and maintain."
He said reduced cleaning of the courthouse is particularly troubling because it is "such a lovely building."
Bartol said depending on the length of the layoff, it may cost the county more in the future "because of the time it will take to catch up on all the cleaning."
"I hope the county residents will understand, and I apologize in advance" for the condition they will find some of the buildings, he said. "We'll try to do the best we can."
County commissioners trimmed general fund budget requests officeholders submitted from nearly $53.9 million to $39.9 million earlier this month.
Some officeholders have claimed they won't have enough money to finish the year, and others are expected to start making layoffs over the coming weeks. The commissioners have put a half-percent sales tax for a five-year period on the May 3 primary ballot.