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Published: Sunday, 9/13/2009

Proposal calls for reallocation of funds

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Approving Issue 1 Tuesday will have no effect on taxpayers' wallets but those for and against the request to change how part of Toledo's income is spent greatly disagree on what it will do to city operations and the budget.

Council President Joe McNamara conceived a plan to take $3.9 million from the city's capital improvement plan budget - which includes funding for streets and sidewalks - and apply that money for police and fire in the city's general fund, which at one point this year appeared to be $27 million in the red.

Now the projected general fund deficit is $7.8 million and using that $3.9 million will shrink the shortfall to about $3.9 million.

Early this year, Mayor Carty Finkbeiner said he was opposed to the idea of using streets money to pay general fund expenses - even though he had done the same thing to close deficits in 2008 and previous years.

Then more recently, Mr. Finkbeiner supported it and even signed a council resolution urging approval, but on Aug. 10 announced he had changed his mind because Issue 1 would let council use capital improvement money for the general fund through the end of 2012.

If approved, Issue 1 - also called Safety First - will change the way Toledo's 0.75 percent renewable income tax is allocated. One-third of the tax now goes to capital improvements, one-third to the general fund, and one-third to police and fire.

If approved, for the remainder of 2009, all of the money would go toward the general fund and police and fire operations. For 2010, 2011, and 2012, the allocation would be half to police and fire, one-third to the general fund, and one-sixth to capital improvements.

Mr. Finkbeiner said that amounts to $28 million and could cost the city nearly $50 million in matching state and federal grants for street repair.

"Issue 1 is a bad, bad idea. It will mean drastic cuts to our streets," Mr. Finkbeiner said.

Mayor Finkbeiner also called Issue 1 a "hidden tax."

Mr. McNamara, a Democrat, as well as others on council, such as Republican Councilman George Sarantou, were astounded with the mayor's change of heart and now think he's been misleading voters.

"All Issue 1 does - it's not a new tax - is it gives us the flexibility to use capital improvement money for police and fire and there is nothing that mandates we use all the money as the mayor is suggesting," he said.

Mr. McNamara also pointed out that Mr. Finkbeiner's attempts to push tax increases through council have failed, that he hasn't identified how to make up the $3.9 million if Issue 1 fails, and that he no longer will be mayor next year.

Mr. Sarantou said the city could lay off 200 police officers as of Oct. 16 to make up $3.9 million - which would jeopardize federal grants to maintain police officer funding.

The mayor is not alone in flip-flopping. Councilman Phillip Copeland, who is business manager of Laborers Local 500, joined a coalition of council members who asked voters to say yes to the proposal.

But last week, he said he was against Issue 1.

"I didn't know. I didn't have the information," he said. "I didn't know it was going to take away projects from roads."

Sally Powless, regional director of AFSCME Council 8, said the union is opposing Issue 1 because its members perform CIP work that would be cut.

"It directly affects our jobs and if they take away from improving the roads and parks it means more layoffs," Ms. Powless said.

"If people don't vote for it, it won't cause any more police layoffs because the federal stimulus money that was committed for the next three years will have to be paid back," she said.

The mayor agreed that laying off police is not an option because he accepted a grant from the Justice Department's COPS Hiring Recovery Program, which was worth $7.1 million over three years. It requires the city to maintain a minimum police manning level of 564 sworn officers for four years.

After withdrawing his support of Issue 1, the mayor proposed legislation to place a question on the Nov. 3 ballot for voters to allow only a one-time transfer of $3.9 million from the capital improvements fund to the general fund.

Only Councilmen Michael Ashford and Betty Shultz voted in favor of putting the question on the November ballot. Phillip Copeland was not present.

The Lucas County Democratic Party's executive and central committees endorsed passage of Issue 1.

Last week, the Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce Board of Trustees sided with the mayor and other unions and voted to oppose the ballot question.



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