Toledo Mayor Mike Bell’s battle with City Council over the pay scales of nonunion city officials took a bizarre turn this week. The mayor gave pay raises to 55 of his top aides, including two directors whose salaries will rise by about 20 percent. Mr. Bell’s decision came just as Toledoans are voting on several property tax levies, including a tax increase for Toledo Public Schools.
Mayor Bell notes correctly that pay scales for city lawyers, commissioners, directors, and other top officials haven’t been adjusted in 14 years. He hasn’t said whether any officials have suffered as a result, but the fact that most officials were not already at the top of the current salary scale indicates they haven’t.
The mayor also claimed that raising the pay scales wouldn’t necessarily lead to raises for these officials. But his latest action suggests that was the plan all along. The two directors who benefited most could have gotten raises at any time. Why the rush to catch them up now?
Who gets to pay? Toledo taxpayers. Mayor Bell will finance the raises out of the city’s expected budget surplus of $900,000. It is true that some of the officials who got raises played a part in creating that surplus. But it’s not their money — it’s yours.
And the timing is terrible. Nearly three years ago, as Toledo faced a projected $44 million deficit and union-represented city workers were asked to make deep concessions, the then-new mayor gave hefty raises to several administrators.
Now, with the unemployment rate in Toledo still above 8 percent, property values still declining, and foreclosures occurring at a record pace, Mayor Bell announces broad pay hikes. And he does it just as cash-strapped voters are asked to dig into their wallets to support Lucas County Children Services, Lucas County Mental Health and Recovery Services, the Metroparks, city parks and recreation, TPS, Imagination Station, and the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library.
What was the mayor thinking? Apparently not about the immediate consequences. Mr. Bell, who has shown himself to be no great fan of transparency in city government, evidently doesn’t like being told no either.
He claims that council members put “politics and union pressure ahead of the need to properly compensate” his team. His response to this supposed slight was to give every official he could the maximum raise allowed. Take that, council.