Youngstown’s fiscal crisis shows no signs of ending

Just days after we urged Youngstown Mayor John A. Mc- Nally to step aside while he’s on trial in Cleveland, there was this devastating news on the front page of The Vindicator: “The city ended 2015 with its lowest income tax and business- profit-tax collections since 2009, and its financial officials expect this year’s to be even worse.”

It was the lead paragraph of a story that not only revealed the extent of the shrinking city’s financial troubles, but laid out in great detail the challenges confronting government this year.

Veteran Finance Director David Bozanich, who has been witness to the ups and downs of the city’s financial health, was forthright in his assessment of the current situation: “The economy has slowed down. Businesses we thought were growing didn’t. We have to be conservative in 2016. This year’s number will be on the weak side. We will budget a decline in the income taxes.”

If there ever was a time for the steady hand of leadership, it is now. And yet, Mayor McNally won’t be in his office during work hours from Monday through Thursday starting Feb. 29.

The long-awaited Oakhill Renaissance Place criminal-conspiracy trial is set to begin in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court with McNally, former Mahoning County Auditor Michael Sciortino and Youngstown Atty. Martin Yavorcik as the defendants. They are facing a long list of state criminal charges, including bribery.

McNally, during his tenure as a Mahoning County commissioner, Scortino and Yavorcik are accused of being part of a criminal conspiracy designed to block county government’s purchase of Oakhill Renaissance Place, the former Southside Medical Center.

The mastermind of the conspiracy has been identified in court records as Anthony M. Cafaro Sr., the retired president of the Cafaro Co. He has not been charged.

Agency relocation

The two county commissioners who voted for the purchase, Anthony Traficanti and David Ludt, made it known that they intended to move the county’s Job and Family Services offices from the Cafaro Co.-owned Garland Plaza on Youngstown’s East Side to Oakhill Renaissance Place. McNally opposed the purchase.

McNally, who was elected mayor in 2013, has ignored our repeated calls for him to step aside during the trial so the president of city council, Charles Sammarone, a former mayor, can run the city.

Indeed, the Youngstown Home Rule Charter makes it clear that when the mayor is absent, or is unable to perform the mayor’s duties, the president of council will serve as acting mayor.

Both positions are filled through a citywide vote of the people.

As we said in an editorial earlier this month, there’s a reason the charter specifies that the council president will serve as acting mayor: The people do not want unelected bureaucrats in charge of government.

But that’s what Youngstown will have so long as McNally insists on holding on to the reins of power while he fights the state criminal charges in Cleveland.

With Youngstown facing a budgetary implosion, tough decisions about income and expenditures will have to be made quickly.

Tax collections for this year are expected to be lower than 2015, which brought in $40.86 million in income-tax revenue. City officials had expected $41 million, which was 4.6 percent less than the $42.87 million collected in 2014.

“For sure, [tax collections] will be less this year than 2015,” said Deputy Finance Director Kyle Miasek. “It’s going to be a very difficult year.”

How difficult? Miasek said it’s “very likely” the city will receive less than $40 million in tax collections this year. Should that occur, it would be the lowest amount taken in from income and business-profit taxes in 13 years.

Private-sector job cuts and business closings are the main reasons for the city’s fiscal implosion. But there also is the reality that Youngstown’s population is declining. A significant number of residents are on fixed incomes, such as Social Security or welfare, and do not pay income taxes.

There’s no credible way for McNally to spin his daily absence from City Hall as meeting his statutory responsibilities as the city’s full-time mayor – but he’ll try. That’s a shame.