Fire chief asks for more money in Youngstown budget to allow for overtime expenses

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Youngstown Fire Chief Barry Finley said his department is having an issue with firefighters calling off, saying sick time can be used as they please

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – Youngstown City Council started discussing the 2020 budget Tuesday afternoon, beginning with the fire department. They talked about overtime, the possible abuse of sick time, closing stations and, ultimately, the chief’s leadership ability.

Almost $14 million — that’s how much was presented for the fire department’s budget.

In the budget, it calls for $60,000 for overtime but Chief Barry Finley thinks they’re going to need to almost double that.

READ: City of Youngstown’s complete budget proposal

In 2019, the budget for the fire department’s overtime was $55,000 but the department actually spent over $110,000 on overtime.

In 2018, it spent $322,000 and in 2017, $315,000. This does not include holiday overtime, which is set by the union contract.

“Once it was discussed that the administration was going to remove a truck and potentially brown-out stations, we started having our firefighters decide that, ‘OK, I’m going to call off now, I don’t care,'” said Kyle Miasek, interim director of finance.

“Us older firefighters, it’s simple. We’re on the schedule, we come to work. That’s the older generation mentality. The younger generation, they don’t feel that way,” Finley said.

In 2018, when overtime became too high, Finley would brown-out a station, meaning he’d close one until there was enough manpower to operate it. Last year, that changed in August.

“When the mayor said don’t brown-out any fire stations, then all of a sudden…it took me by surprise, but it took off,” Finley said.

As the meeting progressed, questions about how to stop the call-offs came up.

“‘Y’all need to come to work and do y’all job or it’s over with.’ Who has that iron fist?” Councilman Julius Oliver asked.

Finley said no one has it.

“Not the mayor, not the council, not me.”

Finley said if someone has sick time, they can use it as they please.

As tensions rose, Councilwoman Lauren McNally started to question the chief’s leadership.

“You’re saying you can’t control your firefighters? That’s kind of a leadership problem,” she said.

“Through the chair, how is that a leadership problem?” Finley responded.

But Oliver defended the chief and shifted the blame.

“It is a leadership issue but it’s not chief. It’s the leadership of the firefighters’ president within the firefighters union. That’s where the problem is.”

The budget is not final yet. Council will make recommendations before coming to an agreement.

Finley also told council he’s taking an engineer to Station 6 on Shehy Street and Station 15 on McCollum Road Thursday to check on the status of the floors, given that Station 12 on McGuffey Road had to close last year.

When asked if the department had a maintenance budget, Finley said no, that he may have to buy supplies but firefighters do all of the maintenance themselves.

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