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2008-09-08
Liberty, Ohio. Mayor Learns How to Make Water Into Jobs At Wal-Mart

There's some strange alchemy going on in Ohio. The Mayor of Youngstown, Ohio has learned how to convert water into jobs. Unfortunately, many of those jobs are at Wal-Mart, and not really worth the water. On July 16, 2008, Sprawl-Busters reported that Wal-Mart was desperately trying to find some water for its proposed superstore on Belmont Avenue in the old Liberty Plaza in Liberty, Ohio -- but politics was keeping the tap shut. Liberty township's Administrator, Patrick Ungaro, told officials that Wal-Mart informed him in July that their superstore project is on ice over the issue of water. Delays on this project are not a new issue. Last year at this time, Wal-Mart indicated that they were putting the project on hold for its own internal reasons -- mainly due to a change in Wal-Mart's growth plans. The township was ready for the project last year. In July of 2007, Administrator Ungaro told the Vindicator newspaper, "The plans are approved. The land will be transferred and everything is ready to go." But now, more than a year later, no work has begun on the site. Wal-Mart told Liberty officials in June that unless the township and the city of Youngstown, Ohio agree to set up a Joint Economic Development District (JEDD), which allows Youngstown to supply water to the Liberty Plaza site, the supercenter could be in trouble. A JEDD is an agreement between two communities to share services in exchange for compensation. Construction on the supercenter was slated to begin this summer. A Wal-Mart spokesman told the Times-Chronicle newspaper, "At this time, our plans are to continue to move forward with this project." Liberty township officials met with Youngstown Mayor Jay Williams to talk about setting up a JEED on a site near Liberty Plaza -- but not part of the Wal-Mart site. "We thought that would be a good idea for the developer of the property, the township and the city," Ungaro told the Chronicle. "Now, they also are talking about a JEDD on Belmont Avenue." The township thinks Youngstown has waded into water over its head, because the Liberty Plaza site already has waterlines, and Liberty sees no reason for the JEDD there. All this has caused waves at the Trumbull County, Ohio level. County Commissioner Frank Fuda said that the Mayor of Youngstown did not have the legal right to stop a project in Trumbull county. "I don't think he can do that," Fuda told the Chronicle. "The waterline is already there. I question whether they can pick and choose who they deliver water to. Youngstown has been selling water to the plaza." Fuda called in the county Prosecutor's Office to see how he could stop Mayor Williams from denying water toWal-Mart. "If they don't want to sell us water, we will get it from Girard or from Niles, Ohio," Fuda warned. "We are not going to allow Youngstown to stop progress in Trumbull County." For his part, Youngstown Mayor Williams said the whole controversy had bubbled over. "(Liberty officials) approached us two to three months ago about JEDD agreements on Gypsy Lane and the Wal-Mart site," Williams said. "Obviously, we were willing to work with them." On August 20th Sprawl-Busters reported that Wal-Mart sent back the city of Youngstown's Water Tap application unsigned. Mayor Jay Williams told the TV station, "They deleted a portion that said twenty five percent of jobs should go to the city of Youngstown. They deleted a portion, saying they'd be responsible for water costs during construction." A Wal-Mart spokesman explained the company's actions by saying, "Simply put, our position is we want the most qualified people working in our store and these people will come from the city, township, and surrounding area." But the Mayor of Youngstown says the agreement he sent Wal-Mart in Liberty is the same one the city got signed by Wal-Mart in Austintown, and many other developers over the past two decades. "Wal-Mart decided to delete portions of the application and leave out portions of the application. We sent it back, telling them that was unacceptable," Mayor Jay Williams stated. That left Liberty township's Ungaro in an uncomfortable position: he's the former Mayor of Youngstown, and now the town Administrator for Liberty. He helped write the Water Tap application that Wal-Mart now doesn't want to sign. "Here it is 2008 and they [Wal-Mart] don't like it," Ungaro said, siding with the retailer. "They've changed, and a lot of people changed over time, even corporations change. We gotta make it work. That's all." This week, the issue of local jobs in return for water came to a head. TheVindicator newspapers says Youngstown has now signed an agreement to give the Wal-Mart water, and Wal-Mart has agreed to make it easier for Youngstown residents to get jobs at the superstore. The Mayor did not get his request that Wal-Mart make a best effort to hire city residents for at least 25% of the 'new' jobs, but Wal-Mart did agree to recruit Youngstown residents through a hiring center it will open in the city five to six weeks before the Liberty store is completed. Wal-Mart also agreed to work with the city "to explore future investment opportunities within the city," Mayor Jay Williams said. That could be a store in Youngstown or some other project, according to the Mayor. Williams estimates that Youngstown residents comprise 35 to 40% of the employees at the Wal-Marts in Austintown and Boardman, which also receive water from the city. "We believe the recruiting center will result in at least 25% of the employees at the Liberty Wal-Mart to be city residents," the Mayor told the Vindicator. "There's no reason to believe it won't be 35 to 40%." Wal-Mart was very pleased with the water settlement. "It really came down to refining the points,' a company spokesman said of the unusual arrangement. "We all have the same goal: to have the best workers in our store. We applaud the mayor's efforts." But the water-for-jobs deal left a bitter aftertaste between the Mayor and Liberty officials. "It is unfortunate that some attempted to negotiate this process through public hysteria and misinformation," the Mayor said, "instead of working in a more productive manner as we have now seen. We are pleased that the development is moving forward for the benefit of all communities involved." One resident commenting in the newspaper on the water-for-jobs trade said, "The thing I find most funny about the whole deal is 'job-training for city residents for the store'. How much training does it take to work at Wal-Mart? Tells us a lot about city residents' education levels, doesn't it?"

What you can do: This disagreement over the contract could have left the Wal-Mart site "bare for years," according to the newspaper. That was never likely to happen. "To see this happening now is upsetting to all of us," Liberty Trustee Jodi Stoyak said. She obviously hasn't talked to the neighbors, or the many small businesses in Liberty that will suffer if this store is built. "What's disturbing to me is that Mayor Williams said on record at our meeting he would not halt this project, yet it's halted," Stoyak complained. But Mayor Williams refused to be the fall guy. "This is the same application that's been used the last 20 years, even when Pat Ungaro was Mayor. We have not changed it or modified it, and for Stoyak to say this is held by city of Youngstown, she is mistaken," Williams said. "It's imperative that this Wal-Mart starts for economic development," Stoyak pleaded, "because there are projects that are on hold and waiting for Wal-Mart to be built before they commit to coming to the township." The Trustee warned that if the controversy did not get settled soon, Wal-Mart would move on to another community, and it would take years to get the Liberty Plaza make-over started again. "We certainly will do whatever we can in our power to make sure that Wal-Mart continues their project," Stoyak promised. When Stoyak ran for re-election in Liberty, she told voters, "The major issue in my race is bringing economic development to Liberty Township." She talks a lot about reducing the township's carbon emissions, and sustainable growth. Readers are urged to call Trustee Stoyak at (330)759-1315 x 122 and leave the following message: "Trustee Stoyak, Now that the Mayor of Youngstown has a pledge from Wal-Mart to open a hiring center in Youngstown -- has anyone stopped to consider whether this whole jobs-for-water deal was worth the fight? It is amazing to watch two communities battle over low-wage, low-benefit jobs -- especially when these are not really 'new' jobs. Please don't describe Wal-Mart as a form of economic development. Most of its sales will come from existing businesses in Liberty. Wal-Mart will increase your crime, your traffic, and your carbon emissions. You are concerned about sustainability, yet support a company that imports most of its wares by shipping and trucking them half way around the globe. Liberty would be better without a Wal-Mart superstore. You ran on a platform of economic development -- but this is economic dislocation. As a Trustee, you would do better to push for a cap on the size of retail buildings to prevent sprawl -- instead of cheereleading for Wal-Mart. You're just engaged in an elaborate game of retail musical chairs. I don't want to rain on your parade -- but the water deal was of no real economic value. You get the water, the Mayor gets some jobs -- but nobody really benefits economically -- except Wal-Mart."










 
 
"Norman has become the guru of the anti-Wal-Mart movement" ~ 60 Minutes

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