September 22, 2014

Elyria
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Lorain Council considers mandate to hire locally

LORAIN — What are you doing to create jobs?

Councilman Bret Schuster, D-4th, said it’s the most frequent question he and fellow Council members hear from constituents. Schuster’s response is to propose a law mandating the hiring Lorain or Lorain County companies and residents for city projects worth $100,000 or more. The city currently considers whether to use local contractors or workers on a project-by-project basis.

The proposal was unanimously approved Monday night by the City Council’s Streets and Sidewalks Committee on Monday night without debate because of problems with the Council’s audio recording system. Council is expected to debate and vote on the measure Nov. 7.

“This is the right thing to do, and I do believe Council will support it,” Schuster said after the meeting. “Local residents qualified to do the work should have the opportunity to get the work. We need to roll that dollar over locally as many times as we can.”

Schuster, 51, has been watching the jobs disappear for years and said Lorain’s high unemployment inspired the proposal. The city’s unemployment rate in August was 10.2 percent, compared with 8.8 percent in the rest of Ohio and 9.1 percent nationwide.

With city sewer projects to comply with the federal Clean Water Act upcoming as well as road and bridge projects, Schuster said city and county residents should get the jobs.

“Union or nonunion, I don’t care,” he said. “I just want them to have the opportunity to go to work.”

Local contractors who bid as much as 10 percent higher than the lowest bid would be awarded contracts under the proposal, Schuster said. Outside contractors or workers could be used if local contractors or workers aren’t qualified to perform the work.

Citing a 1993 Ohio Supreme Court ruling supporting the city of Zanesville giving hiring preference to local contractors, Law Director Pat Riley said after the meeting that the proposal is probably legal. Riley sent a letter to Council members saying the proposal might increase project costs, but said he was not taking a position on the proposal.

Riley said he was just alerting council members to issues such as who decides whether qualified local workers are available for projects.

“These are complicated matters and I wanted to give them food for thought,” Riley said. “If a project costs more money because you have insisted upon the use of local labor and local contractors, is that additional cost worth it? That’s the issue as I see it.”

Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or egoodenow@chroniclet.com.