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Published: Thursday, 6/27/2013 - Updated: 1 year ago

WORKERS’ COMP FUND

Toledo to use $2.5M rebate to hire more firefighters

City to receive a share of $113M from the state

BY NOLAN ROSENKRANS
BLADE STAFF WRITER

A nearly $2.5 million rebate from the state Bureau of Workers’ Compensation will help the City of Toledo increase the size of this year's class of firefighter recruits, according to the city.

The city will hire 50 firefighter recruits in August, up from the 30 originally budgeted for, Toledo spokesman Jen Sorgenfrei said. While the rebate won’t directly pay for the increased recruit class size, the unexpected funds provided a budgetary cushion that enabled the move, she said.

The city is among some 210,000 employers that are receiving checks in the mail this summer totaling $1 billion in one-time workers’ compensation rebates attributed to better-than-expected earnings on the insurance fund’s investments.

Of that, about $113 million will go to local governments.

READ MORE: Local and state news coverage

Private employers also will see a 2 percent reduction and public employers a 4 percent reduction in their permanent workers’ compensation insurance premiums next year. In all, Bureau of Workers’ Compensation Administrator Steve Buehrer put the price tag of the savings for businesses from the package at $1.9 billion.

The rebates were announced in May, and at the time the bureau estimated Toledo would receive about $1.7 million. Bureau spokesman Melissa Vince said the city ended up receiving more than estimated because the city is enrolled in a program where it gets an upfront discount on its premium by agreeing to take on a bigger share of claim cost responsibilities.

The original firefighter class was determined in November when Mayor Mike Bell submitted his proposed city budget, and in January when council approved it. Ms. Sorgenfrei said that fire Chief Luis Santiago has determined that pending retirements of firefighters will be greater than expected.

Reductions in the number of firefighters can lead to increased overtime costs. The increased recruitment class will fill the vacancies created by retiring firefighters.

Retirements may be up, but so are runs for the department, fire Lt. Matthew Hertzfeld said. The department’s authorized strength is 525, but has hovered around 500, he said.

“It allows us to try and keep ahead of the retirements as best as we can,” he said. “It’s important for us to get as close to our authorized strength as we can.”

Without the rebate money, Ms. Sorgenfrei said the city likely would have moved up the timeline for next year’s firefighter class to counteract the retirements, instead of increasing this year’s size.

Mayor Bell traveled to Columbus on Wednesday to participate in a public event with Gov. John Kasich, representatives from the bureau, businessmen, and others to highlight importance of the rebate, and to physically retrieve the check.

Ms. Sorgenfrei acknowledged the bureau would have sent the the check and the visit by the mayor wasn’t necessary to retrieve the funds. The trip was considered city business, though Ms. Sorgenfrei couldn’t estimate the cost to taxpayers. Mayor Bell defended the trip.

“Anytime someone is willing to offer me a $2.5 million check, I am willing to drive and get it,” he said.

Ms. Sorgenfrei said the trip was not part of a campaign to court the governor’s endorsement.

“The mayor is not seeking an endorsement from the governor,” she said.

Mayor Bell also used the trip as a chance to discuss several Toledo-area concerns with Governor Kasich, including his opposition to the recently passed Ohio House bill that essentially eliminates the use of red-light cameras, his support for a provision exempting the nonprofit Toledo Mud Hens from paying the sales tax on purchases, and an earmark for after-school program provider Kids Unlimited.

Contact Nolan Rosenkrans at:

nrosenkrans@theblade.com,

419-724-6086, or on Twitter

@NolanRosenkrans.



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