Salem in contract talks with unions

SALEM – Contracts with the four unions representing Salem city government employees expired June 30, but Mayor John Berlin told city council he’s expecting to have agreements ready before Sept. 1.

Council entered into executive session before the end of the regular meeting Tuesday night for personnel, with Council President K. Bret Apple stating the reason was contract negotiations, with no action to be taken.

Berlin didn’t release any details about the talks with unions which represent firefighters, police, utilities workers and service workers, but said they started negotiating a couple weeks ago.

He explained the city had to wait until they had more information about what the health insurance was going to cost since it wasn’t expiring until Aug. 1.

Council agreed to suspend their meetings for August, so no regular council meetings will be scheduled, but Berlin said he may end up calling a special meeting for council to consider the union contracts.

The city government last approved three-year contract agreements with the four unions in October 2011. The contracts covered a time period from July 1, 2011 to June 30 this year, with reopeners each year for the health insurance only. Those contracts required employees to start paying their share of the required 10 percent pension payment. They also paid an increased percentage of the health insurance premiums and had to start paying a deductible.

The four unions include the Fraternal Order of Police Ohio Labor Council, the International Association of Firefighters Local 283, AFSCME Local 2701 for the service workers and the Utilities Workers of America Local 560 for the utilities workers.

In other business, city council approved the final resolutions required to put a 1-mill replacement recreation levy on the November ballot to benefit the parks department. By seeking the levy as a replacement instead of a renewal, more income will be realized since the collection will be based on today’s values instead of the values when the levy was first passed many years ago.

According to the levy analysis performed by the Columbiana County Auditor’s office, the levy is expected to generate $198,700 per year. For a taxpayer with a home valued at $80,000, the increased cost per year from the replacement levy will be about $12.33.

In answer to a request from city resident Scott Cahill for an update on the crumbling TanFastic building in downtown Salem, Berlin said he’s been collecting information from demolition groups for the cost to tear down the building, which would be at taxpayer expense. It will have to be bid out and he said he’s been told there will have to be asbestos remediation and support built up for the basements in the buildings on either side once the TanFastic building comes down. He also has quotes from engineering companies in Poland and Youngstown.

He said he preferred to not talk about numbers at this point, but said he’ll be bringing something to council for the members to consider.

Councilwoman Cyndi Baronzzi Dickey asked about the bank claim and tax liens and he said the tax liens will likely be forgiven by the county. He said the county land bank that’s just starting out would be able to purchase a property like this one, but the land bank is still in the formation stage and funds aren’t available yet for the immediate problem in downtown.

City Law Director Brooke Zellers said the court case the city had filed against the building owners is technically still pending.

“We’re working with the property owners to get this thing resolved,” he said.

Councilman Rick Drummond said he thought it was important to point out that “the city has not been sitting here twiddling its thumbs.”

The city does not own the building and does not control the courts.

The building has been in bad shape for several years now and has scaffolding in front of it as a safety precaution so the sidewalk can be used. Previous to when the scaffolding was put in place over a year ago, the city closed the sidewalk in front of the building due to the danger from falling bricks. The case has been before the courts since 2011.

Berlin said taking care of the building has become the taxpayers’ burden at this point. No one else is stepping forward. With the danger from the building, he said it’s incumbent on the city to look at the options for demolishing it.

During the report of standing committees, Councilman Clyde Brown said his committee had not met and he had no report, but he said he will have a few things for the next council meeting.

Dickey noted that her infrastructure planning subcommittee will meet at 5:30 p.m. Thursday in council chambers and the Rules & Ordinances Committee will meet at 6:30 p.m. July 22 regarding changes to some ordinances caused by the shooting range ordinances.

The Utilities Commission will meet at 4 p.m. Thursday in the second floor conference room of the utilities department.