Action stalls on Niles firefighter pact


Staff writer

NILES — City council on Wednesday had a first reading for a contract with the firefighters bargaining unit that affects 36 firefighters, according to Mayor Steve Mientkiewicz.

Release of details of the agreement is pending ratification, which could not be completed because not enough council members were present to pass it as an “emergency.”

Ryan McNaughton was absent and excused by his fellow council members. Also absent was P.J. Kearney, who was not excused. Council needs at least six members to approve legislation as an emergency.

The agreement, which includes pay increases, must be approved by council within 15 days of ratification by the bargaining unit, which happened Friday, Mientkiewicz said.

Council set a special meeting at 5 p.m. Friday in the downstairs conference room at the City Building to act on the agreement, as well as other outstanding legislation. A second special meeting may be held 5 p.m. Wednesday in the same location if needed.

Among other outstanding legislation is an agreement with the newly re-established Community Improvement Corporation .

Mientkiewicz said the CIC plans to focus on bringing business into the downtown “footprint,” which extends from the city’s center up Robbins Avenue. He said the CIC’s goals include property retention, taking on new property, marketing new property, potentially offering loan programs for improvement to building facades and signage, and providing incentives for business.

One such incentive is the downtown power incentive program — a six-year plan that would offer small businesses coming into the downtown area reduced electric rates.

The incentive, which also had its first reading, would give small businesses a 25 percent reduction in their first year and 20-, 15-, 10- and 5-percent reduction in subsequent years. In the sixth year, the business would pay the normal electric rate.

“We do have incentives built into our industrial users, but as far as a small business owner who would like to locate in downtown, it is something new,” Mientkiewicz said. He said the program is based off the city’s current A/B rates for commercial business customers.

“It’s something we hope we can market for potential business owners and incentivze them to move into the downtown area,” Mienktiewicz said, noting in the spring, the city also passed an income tax incentive designed to draw in new businesses.

Broader strokes of the CIC plan met some kickback from members of council, who expressed concerns with funding and the potential acquisition of properties.

The plan calls for $50,000 to be set aside for the CIC in the next fiscal year, and although Law Director Phil Zuzulo said passage of the legislation at council would not lock that number in, some council members still were wary.

Council President Bob Marino expressed concerns that the city will lose control of that funding once it is transferred to a CIC fund because the city has no legal recourse to control spending of funds.

Councilman Albert Cantola suggested the CIC should be mandated to give the city monthly or bi-monthly progress updates. Cantola, who in the past voted to discontinue a relationship with the Youngstow Warren Regional Chamber, said he is supportive of the CIC, but wants proof of their dedication.

“Let’s face it, this is really a spin of the Chamber, but I’m more excited because I’m hearing ‘downtown’,” Cantola said. He said for a city, $50,000 isn’t a lot of money to commit to bring economic development.

Council also questioned the CIC’s plan to potentially acquire properties. Mientkiewicz said the CIC would be acquiring the properties in order to develop or sell the properties at a discount to developers.

“We’re not looking to buy them or be in the real estate business,” Mientkiewicz said.