By Morgan Petronelli
It’s no secret Youngstown has suffered through some hard times. Whether it’s fiscal emergencies, job loss, corruption or crime, this city is no stranger to adversity.
One year after taking office, Youngstown Mayor Jamael Tito Brown held a State of the City address on March 28 at DeYor Performing Arts Center in the Ford Family Recital Hall.
The public event was hosted by the City Club of the Mahoning Valley.
Brown discussed a wide variety of topics from loss of jobs to the revitalization of both downtown and neighborhoods, but he repeatedly asked the audience the same question, “Why not Youngstown?”
“I want to tell you, Youngstown’s open for business. You don’t have to know anyone, be related to anyone or pay anyone if you want to do business in the city,” Brown said. “The only criterion for doing business with this administration is that you must be willing to improve the quality of life of the citizens of Youngstown.”
Brown mentioned the city is in a time of financial uncertainty with the closing of the General Motors Co. Lordstown plant and Northside Hospital, but also addressed the recent fiscal circumstance the city has found itself in.
The Ohio state auditor investigated the city of Youngstown and found over $10 million in misappropriated water, wastewater and sanitation funds that were used in revitalization projects around the city since 2010, according to an article by The Vindicator.
The state auditor’s office is requesting Youngstown to repay the state $4.5 million in misused funds that was spent in 2017 from the city’s general fund, which was before Brown took office.
In February, the city’s finance department hired Mike Abouserhal, former deputy state auditor and executive director of the Ohio Lottery Commission, to help find a way to get Youngstown out of a possible fiscal emergency.
“We hired Mike Abouserhal to assist turning around a plan to get Youngstown back on track and moving in the right direction. We realized the turnaround won’t happen overnight, but we have been working every day, and we continue to work at it every day,” Brown said.
He mentioned his administration put together a five-year forecast that puts the focus on how the city’s government operates.
“Youngstown has a rich history of being a city of resilience and toughness to survive in hard times,” Brown said. “Now, the financial challenges when I took over as mayor — the city was faced with a $2.3 million deficit in 2018, which required some drastic cuts and a new mindset of doing city business. The cuts had to be immediate and direct.”
Brown said they plan on reducing staff through attrition by combining and eliminating positions in every department as well as cross training employees to curb the need for extra, unneeded positions.
He also thanked the Youngstown City Council for passing the city budget.
“We can focus on cutting fat but not the muscle of city government and learn to improve services with fewer dollars. I always say, do more with less,” Brown said.
Aside from the city’s fiscal situation, Brown’s address also touched on how Youngstown has improved over the last year.
“Crime in Youngstown remains a focus point on a daily basis. Although we have seen some drops in statistical numbers, I still remain committed to fighting and reducing the rate of gun violence in our streets,” Brown said.
He said in 2018, the Youngstown Police Department removed 186 guns from the streets of Youngstown and responded to over 69,500 calls.
Brown mentioned how under his administration, some improvement projects have taken place around the city, like an increased number and wattage of street lights, cracking down on illegal dump sites and removing unwanted shrubbery and weeds to improve the overall look of the city.
The mayor also applauded the new businesses that have decided to plant themselves in Youngstown to help improve economic development.
The address ended with Brown stating he has high hopes for Youngstown, but improving the city is a team effort and not solely up to the government.
“The vision and civic engagement will take all of us in this room to come together, moving in the same direction and getting involved in order for Youngstown to continue to define ourselves,” Brown said.