Youngstown council and administration officials to meet privately today to discuss state audit

Published: Wed, August 7, 2019 @ 12:05 a.m.

Closed-door meeting slated for 4 p.m. today

By David Skolnick


City council will meet today behind closed doors with Mayor Jamael Tito Brown, Law Director Jeff Limbian and outside legal counsel to discuss the ongoing state audit of the city’s questionable use of $4.5 million in 2017 from water, wastewater and sanitation funds for economic-development projects.

The auditor’s office first contacted the city in a May 4, 2018, letter to Brown informing him using water funds for economic development “may violate” state law and the Ohio Constitution.

The audit of the city’s 2017 finances has been occurring for well over a year and is expected to end soon.

“We’ll talk to city council about the state audit,” Brown said. “That’s the best I can give you. We’re talking to our attorneys as it’s about a legal matter.”

The executive session, in council’s caucus room on the sixth floor of City Hall, is scheduled to start at 4 p.m. today.

Brown said he was “not sure if we’ll have a statement after the meeting.”

In February, Roetzel & Andress, a Cleveland law firm hired by Youngstown to represent it in negotiations, informed city officials the auditor’s office “is currently waiting for a repayment plan from the city” for $4,462,662 it spent in 2017 from the three funds. The auditor’s office wants the money repaid from the city’s general fund, according to a Roetzel letter. The city cannot afford to pay the money from that fund, however, the letter reads.

The city could end up in fiscal emergency if required to pay back the money.

City officials say if a repayment from the general fund is made it would be done over a period of years.

In addition, the auditor’s office has asked about the nearly $1 million spent from those funds for economic development in 2018. No money has been spent from those funds for that purpose this year and the practice has stopped.

That overall amount will likely be lowered because of a loan repayment scheduled for December by the owners of the DoubleTree by Hilton hotel. The owners received approval by the city for a $2,050,000 no-interest loan with $750,000 of it forgiven if paid back within 30 months. The loan repayment date was extended to this December by the city in October 2018. The money for that loan was given in 2017 and 2018.

The city has used close to $10 million from its water, wastewater and sanitary funds since 2010 for business development, but the auditor’s office has expressed interest in only the money spent in 2017 and 2018.

The issue came to light after the city in March 2018 settled a class-action lawsuit that questioned the legality of the practice of using those restricted funds for economic-development purposes.

Councilwoman Basia Adamczak, D-7th, said she only knows the executive session is about the state audit.

“I don’t have information on what they’ll be specifically presenting to us,” she said.

Councilman Mike Ray, D-4th, said, “We’re meeting about the state audit. Very little information has been provided. We’re trying to finalize everything is what I understand. It’s a meeting to make sure we’re on the same page.”

Limbian said it was “not likely” council would take any action after the executive session.

Meanwhile, Brown was asked about fire Chief Barry Finley’s Monday statement the fire department was no longer looking at eliminating two battalion chiefs through attrition to fund improvements to the department’s radio system.

Brown said he spoke to Finley about that before the chief’s public comments and is in agreement as long as the firefighters union follows through with a plan to talk about other options to pay for the radio system, estimated to cost $285,000.

The reduction of battalion chiefs, Brown said, is “still an option, but not a first option. We need to talk about options and a partnership with the administration and the union to put a plan together.”

Brown said the city doesn’t have the money to buy the radio system and may look to make the purchase in phases, if that’s possible.

The union filed a complaint with an arbitrator that could force the city to buy the radio system after a binding decision is made. Finley complained less than two weeks ago the union wasn’t working with him.

Union representatives said the radio problems and the elimination of two battalion chief positions are safety issues.

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