Banish all talk of salary raises during pandemic

Anguish and sacrifice have permeated the way of life for most all of us since the COVID-19 monster first reared its ugly head in our region 11 excruciatingly long months ago.

In the Mahoning Valley, some 800 lives have been lost, tens of thousands have been sickened, and the local economy has been thrown into a tailspin more fierce than any since the Great Depression.

In addition, public finances at the township, municipal, county, state and federal levels all have been battered with dramatic reductions in revenue caused by gargantuan shortfalls in income-tax collections.

The city of Girard serves as an apt microcosm of that collective pain throughout our region and nation. According to longtime Mayor James Melfi, that city of 9,500 residents has witnessed its total income tax revenue plummet from $3,569,154 in 2019 to $3,234,199 in 2020. Additionally, losses from layoffs at the Vallourec Star pipe plant bring the total shortfall last year to more than $540,000 from 2019 levels.

“The 2020 income tax collections are a disaster. It is the largest single decline in dollars and percentage in our city’s history,” he told city council at its Jan. 25 meeting.

What’s more, Girard and other local governments face added expenditures for personal protective equipment, remote work technology and overtime pay for essential employees. Any cushion provided by the $330,000 in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding Girard received likely has been wiped out.

As such, fiscal frugality must remain the watchwords for government spending in the foreseeable future. All efforts must focus on ensuring maintenance of vital city services and avoidance of mass layoffs of critical city employees.

Clearly, business-as-usual practices won’t do if Girard is to weather the seemingly endless pounding from the pandemic storm. That’s why extras, such as pay raises for city employees, must remain completely off the table.

And that’s why Melfi is absolutely correct in his vocal and stern opposition to the proposed pay raise for the city treasurer. We commend him for standing up for and advocating the sacrifice all must endure until the last vestiges of the pandemic are erased.

The pay raise for city Treasurer Mark Zuppo first publicly surfaced at that recent January city council meeting. The first reading of the proposal did not include a specific percentage hike, but plans had called for unveiling more details such as the scope of the raise at today’s council meeting.

Here’s our recommendation for that — and any other — misguided pay hike proposal for city workers: 0 percent. Anything above that benchmark fully deserves the promised veto from Mayor Melfi.

Instead of wasting time and inviting outrage by pondering a salary boost for municipal employees, council members would be much more prudent to consider adopting a citywide pay freeze for the remainder of the pandemic.

Such a move would project an empathetic understanding of the shared sacrifice the city must endure with the legions of Girard residents who have been crushed by the effects of economic slowdowns, business shutdowns and job losses wrought by the unrelenting misery of this nearly yearlong plague.



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