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Published: Sunday, 2/28/2010

Police, firefighters already have sacrificed

BY DONATO IORIO

TO ASK even more of Toledo police officers and firefighters who are already underpaid, understaffed, and outgunned, and who have sacrificed more than their counterparts in other Ohio cities, is unreasonable.

Unlike virtually all other workers, police officers and firefighters in Ohio do not collect Social Security benefits when they retire. The pension benefits provided by Ohio's Police and Fire Pension Fund are their social security.

So-called pension pickup is the City of Toledo's payment of the employee's portion of his or her pension contribution. Pension pickup became part of Toledo's public safety contracts over several rounds of negotiations between 1996 and 2006.

The pickup occurred in lieu of greater base salaries. It cost the city less than an equivalent increase in those salaries, by avoiding added costs of overtime, pensions, and taxes that accompany salary improvements. During the same period, police officers and firefighters in comparable Ohio cities got greater base salary increases.

For several months, The Blade and the administration of Mayor Mike Bell have targeted the pension pickups in the city's police and fire contracts. A Feb. 18 editorial in The Blade argued that eliminating the pickups "would bring Toledo more in line with comparable Ohio cities." This assertion is incorrect.

Comparing Toledo's public safety benefits with those of other cities - Columbus, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Dayton, and Akron - is appropriate. In fact, Ohio's collective bargaining act, which governs public employee rights, mandates such comparisons.

But limiting the analysis to pensions alone, as The Blade and the city urge, is improper because it is incomplete. A proper comparative analysis also must consider history, working conditions, and total compensation, not just pensions.

Such an analysis makes clear that Toledo's public safety employees need a pay increase to bring the city in line with its counterparts.

Unlike uniformed employees in other Ohio communities, Toledo's public safety forces gave this city deep concessions in last year's contract negotiations to address its projected deficit - the same purported deficit the new administration points to as justification for additional cuts. These givebacks consisted of:

• A 7 percent rollback on the pension pickup.

• An unprecedented premium-sharing agreement.

• A two-year wage freeze.

• Deferment of payments for overtime and compensatory time.

w• Elimination of the pension pickup for all newly hired police officers and firefighters.

All Ohio cities are experiencing a budget crunch. Yet Toledo is the only city that has laid off police officers even as it received significant concessions from its safety forces.

Toledo police are underpaid by 2 to 12 percent overall, compared with police officers in other Ohio cities except Cleveland. A police officer in Columbus with 15 years of experience earns $80,386 a year in total compensation - 13 percent more than his or her counterpart in Toledo.

In Dayton, that officer would make $78,107 a year, 10 percent more than in Toledo. In Cincinnati, it's $76,537 - nearly 9 percent more. In Akron, it's $71,680, or 2-plus percent more.

And these disparities persist despite the 10-percent pension pickup in Toledo. Eliminating the pickup would substantially impair our city's ability to retain trained police officers and firefighters, and to recruit qualified applicants. This would be a false economy, since the need for specialized training and risk of liability make turnover extremely costly for police and fire departments.

The demand for further concessions comes at a time when violent crime, shootings, and felonious assaults have steadily increased in Toledo. For the city's firefighters, calls for service, actual incidents, and run volumes have never been higher.

The city's police and fire departments are dangerously understaffed. There are fewer police officers and firefighters per 1,000 residents in Toledo than in any comparable Ohio city.

Citizens and taxpayers must keep all these facts in mind when they hear uninformed, misleading demands for "fair and reasonable" concessions from the police officers and firefighters who risk their lives every day to protect Toledoans' lives and property.

Donato Iorio is an attorney for the Toledo law firm Kalniz, Iorio & Feldstein, which represents the Toledo Police Patrolman's Association and Toledo Firefighters Local 92.



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