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Youngstown Council Members are Concerned About the City Spending Water and Sewer Money on Economic Development - Vindicator

City council members say they have some concerns with how Youngstown uses water and wastewater funds for economic development projects.

At a Wednesday council finance committee meeting before its general meeting, members suggested the city needs to set a budget each year on how much water and sewer money is spent on economic development, more of the funds need to go toward infrastructure improvements, and assistance should be given to existing customers who can’t afford to pay their bills.

The discussion was initiated by legislation to provide $1.5 million in water and wastewater funds to the Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corp. for three “Live Youngstown” programs to help encourage people to buy homes in the city.

Council voted 6-1 in favor of the ordinance at its general meeting with Councilwoman Anita Davis, D-6th, casting the only no vote.

Davis said the city is spending the water and sewer money “like a drunken sailor.”

She added that until a class-action lawsuit filed by five water customers questioning the legality of using water and wastewater money for economic development is settled, the practice should stop.

The city has provided about $5 million – most of it in grants – to businesses, mostly in downtown, since 2010 in those funds. City officials say the money is for the water and wastewater expenses of those projects.

The city also established a $5 million fund from its water, wastewater and environmental sanitation funds two months ago for a downtown amphitheater to be finished by May 1, 2018.

Without the city providing that money, numerous downtown projects would never be built, Mayor John A. McNally said.

“If we want to keep moving the city forward this is a step we need to take,” he said.

Council President Charles Sammarone supports the YNDC program and using water and sewer funds for economic development, but said an annual budget on how much of it will be spent for those purposes needs to be established.

Also, he said he gets a lot of calls from senior citizens who cannot afford their water, sewer and garbage expenses – which are included together on a monthly bill from the city.

“We can’t keep taking money out of these accounts and funding projects,” Sammarone said. “It creates problems for people with water bills who can’t afford” to pay.

Councilwoman Lauren McNally, D-5th, said the city needs to spend more water and sewer money on underground infrastructure.

The money to be given to the YNDC is for three programs, each funded at $500,000 by the city. Final approval from the board of control is needed.

One pot of money is for the YNDC to spend on water and sewer improvements to houses it rehabilitates.

Another program is to have the agency work with potential homeowners who would receive grants for water and sewer work when purchasing owner-occupied houses.

The third program is a revolving loan fund for qualified first-time homeowners to buy houses in the city.

The goal is to increase the number of city water and sewer users so the systems are used more, said Finance Director David Bozanich.

Also, council approved legislation to spend about $1.5 million to pave six main streets McNally described as being in “horrific” condition.

The state will cover 69 percent of the cost with the city paying the rest, or up to $465,000, said Charles Shasho, deputy director of public works for the city.

The roads are: McCollum Road from Schenley Road to Belle Vista Avenue, and Bears Den Road from Industrial to McCollum roads, both on the West Side; Oak Street Extension from Lamar Avenue to Jacobs Road, and Early Road from Cornwall Street to East High Avenue, both on the East Side; Logan Avenue from Lauderdale to Wick avenues on the North Side; and Gibson Street from Dewey to Palmer avenues on the South Side.

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