The budget-beleaguered city of Toledo could be on the hook to repay more than $2.9 million from a federal grant accepted five years ago to hire police officers, according to documents obtained by The Blade.
The city faces the unexpected expense, which Mayor D. Michael Collins said cannot be easily paid with the austerity of this year’s budget, because it violated terms of a $7.1 million federal grant from 2009 that allowed the former administration of Carty Finkbeiner to hire back 31 police officers laid off because of budget cuts.
Last year, when Mayor Collins was a district councilman, he warned then-Mayor Mike Bell that the city would have to repay at least part of the grant. The two tussled over the issue without a consensus.
Mayor Collins was in Washington on Wednesday for a summit on veteran homelessness and hand-delivered a letter to a White House aide meant for President Obama, asking for his help and seeking relief.
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“The city of Toledo received findings based upon a December, 2013, audit from the Office of the Inspector General on the 2009 Cops Hiring Grant,” the mayor said. “The audit results were that the city failed to comply with the terms of maintaining the number of patrolmen defined by the scope of the grant.”
The city applied in March, 2009, to receive nearly $34.6 million over the following three years from the COPS Hiring Recovery Program. That could have allowed the city to bring back the 75 officers laid off May 1, 2009 and hire an additional 75 officers. Instead, Toledo got enough federal money to pay for 31 police officers, not 150 officers, as it requested.
The money came with strings attached. Toledo had to maintain a certain number of police officers. Finkbeiner administration officials said the city was required to maintain a minimum level of 564 sworn officers for four years.
Mayor Collins said the city was never in compliance because the grant specified the city had to keep a minimum of 495 patrolmen — the lowest rank for police officers — not the number of all officers on the force. The number of patrolmen dropped below the required-level the year after accepting the grant money because of retirements and not enough new hires.
Thirty patrolmen retired in 2009, 21 retired in 2010, 39 retired in 2011, and 21 in 2012.
Police Chief William Moton wrote a letter May 27 to Carol Taraszka, regional audit manager for the U.S. Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General, asking that the city be forgiven.
“Obviously, after reading the report, I am concerned with the large dollar amounts your office is questioning,” the chief wrote, referring to the audit report. “In 2009-2010, the city of Toledo was facing a $48 million deficit. Now, even though performing better financially, we are still facing major economic problems.”
Ms. Taraszka could not be reached for comment.
Chief Moton pointed out that all city departments had to cut spending this year and the police department was slashed by more than $800,000.
The chief’s letter said the Department of Justice asked for more than $2.5 million in “allowable questioned costs for grant funded officers’ salary and fringe benefit costs while the Toledo [police department] was below the COPS Officer’s approved baseline.”
The federal government also asked for “remedy” of $396,321 for “allowable questioned costs for the duplication of vacation and sick leave reimbursement by the COPS Office.”
In 2013, then-police Chief Derrick Diggs sent a letter to Toledo councilmen confirming that the federal Office of the Inspector General had conducted an audit on the matter.
“The only main concern from the OIG audit was that we never maintained the level of patrol officers that we were supposed to,” Chief Diggs wrote.
Contact Ignazio Messina at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6171, or on Twitter @IgnazioMessina.