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City cuts 3 jobs as ‘casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic’

Three City of Warren staffers have been terminated as the Codes Department is being restructured.

According to City Manager Nancy Freenock, the move is a response to the long-term financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This was done purely for financial reasons,” she explained. “The individuals filling those positions made valuable contributions to the City; the work they performed remains, however. The City is working to restructure operations so that City residents will continue to receive the services to which they have become accustomed.”

In conjunction with the staffing reduction, the city is also seeking early termination of agreements from the municipalities where the city has been providing codes services.

That would result in the city providing those services in the city only, though Freenock said the city will commit to “complete work under building permits the City has already issued in the Townships/Boroughs.”

One quarter of the city’s total budget comes from Earned Income Tax (EIT) revenue.

“As a direct result of the significant number of layoffs, furloughs, and job terminations brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, the City’s Earned Income Tax revenue will be diminished for an indeterminate amount of time,” Freenock projected. “Difficult decisions have been, and will continue to be, made as we all work through these unprecedented circumstances.”

The city, Freenock explained, is trying to balance “essential services” with “steps to curtail expenses.”

“UCC inspection services can be provided by third party agencies,” she said. “The fees collected from the other municipalities which the City serves were not sufficient to cover the additional overhead costs to provide such services. Although the same is true for the Police and Fire Departments – that is, they do not cash flow – the City is mandated to provide fire/EMS services and the State Police are not staffed to the point where they could cover the City.

“The Code Department was a casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Freenock said there was a “component of good will” with the Codes Department “that the city was trying to cultivate so that the city and the surrounding municipalities could engage in more cooperative ventures.”

She said, the “extent of potential budget shortfalls” won’t be clear until the third or fourth quarter of 2020 “and it is unknown just how long it will take the local economy to recover. City operations are dependent upon tax revenue and expenses are driven by the cost of labor and goods.”

Looking at the area more generally, Freenock said that she believes “that the more we can regionalize services, the more sustainable this region will be.”

She noted that the Department of Public Works shares resources, the sewage treatment plant serves over townships and that city police and ambulance response outside the city with dispatched.

“We all need to work together,” she said. “However, given budget constraints, that may not always be possible.

“The City would be remiss if it did not take steps to curtail expenses in light of current economic conditions. The replacement of the City’s aerial truck and police cruisers are necessary for the safety of employees and the public. Other non-emergent expenditures are being carefully reviewed before funds are expended.”

One other impact of these job losses is a curtailing of the city’s blighted property process which the Codes Department had been driving.

“The blighted process will be on hold until the Codes Department restructuring is completed,” Freenock said.

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