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Published: Friday, 5/8/2009

Bell seeks new audit of Toledo's budget data

BY TOM TROY
BLADE POLITICS WRITER
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Mayoral candidate Mike Bell is proposing the convening of a "financial CSI" - "citizen special investigation" - to delve into Toledo's shattered budget figures and come up with an audit that creates public trust.

Mr. Bell, a political independent, plans to announce today he will encourage Mayor Carty Finkbeiner to name the group to help move along negotiations with the city's public safety unions.

However, it is unclear whether the proposed 60-day study is a short enough window in which to come up with solutions to a deficit that is already forcing the administration into large-scale layoffs.

Last week, Mayor Finkbeiner laid off 75 police officers, and at least 70 more general fund employees are slated to be laid off May 15. The mayor said last week he'll lay off 125 more officers if their union doesn't agree to wage and benefit concessions and City Council does not raise garbage fees and taxes.

Mr. Bell said the team would use a "forensic" accounting model which combines auditing, accounting, and investigative skills to provide a data-driven analysis.

"As a candidate for mayor who has actually negotiated labor contracts and managed employees, I can tell you that the only way to get a labor agreement is to agree on the numbers," Mr. Bell said. "The sooner we do that, the sooner we get more police back on the streets and control the budget."

Under Mr. Bell's proposal, senior-level leaders from accounting, banking, law, business, would study the city's general fund.

One of his rivals, Democrat Ben Konop, said the proposal smacks of delay rather than solution.

Mr. Konop yesterday delivered to Mayor Finkbeiner his own proposal, a plan for combining duplicative city and county services to save $5.8 million, enough to put the laid-off officers back to work.

"What Bell is proposing is not an actual idea to get people back on the street. He seems very fond of more committees, more panels, more listening. It's time for action and tangible results," Mr. Konop said.

Keith Wilkowski, also a Democrat, said he's been calling for an independent review of city finances for weeks. "The city's numbers have no credibility," he said. "As mayor, I will ensure that there is outside verification of city revenue and expenses. That verification is essential for us to reach agreements with our employee organizations."

Republican Jim Moody said the problem is an antiquated accounting software system that deprives city officials of reliable information. "To establish trust, we need to implement the transparency programs I've talked about," Mr. Moody said.

The administration is trying to extract concessions from the 482-member police officer union, including a pay cut, a giveback of the pickup by taxpayers of the employee share of the pension contribution, and a contribution of up to $55 a month toward health insurance.

Robert Reinbolt, chief of staff for Mr. Finkbeiner, said the union's claims that the numbers are untrustworthy is a negotiating ploy to avoid accepting painful, but necessary, reductions.

Contact Tom Troy at:

tomtroy@theblade.com

or 419-724-6058.



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