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Published: Saturday, 2/13/2010

Fat raises stir ire among taxpayers, unions

BY ROSE RUSSELL

LATE Monday, as weather forecasters issued warnings about the pending snowstorm, I said for the umpteenth time during the past 30-something years that I should have been a schoolteacher, so I would not have to go to work when schools close.

When I learned that several City of Toledo employees got a double-digit-percentage salary increase, I said with scorn that I should have opted for a city job. Then maybe I could get one of those whopping raises, I sneered.

Talk about chutzpah. It is an exercise in hubris to dole out double-digit raises - even to deserving employees - when the city faces a $48.2 million budget deficit and is asking residents to approve a 0.25 percent income tax increase and is asking unions to take 10 percent pay cuts and benefits concessions.

Mayor Mike Bell will have a tough time justifying this one and getting the tax levy passed.

Here I was, ready to urge Toledoans to do their part to help our city get back on track.

I didn't like the idea, but I was not totally put off when candidate Bell told Blade Publisher and Editor-in-Chief John Robinson Block, me, and my editorial board colleagues last fall that he would not rule out a tax increase. As much as everybody dislikes it, seeking a tax increase was something the city would probably end up doing, we reasoned.

The city's deficit would eventually affect Toledoans one way or another, I further rationalized.

So it makes more sense to cope with a temporary tax hike, which the mayor says would expire in December, 2012, than for city officials to say residents would have less of some vital service or slap Toledoans with some other tax in the form of additional fees.

The definition of a temporary tax increase, of course, is purely subjective when you consider that we're still paying the "temporary" income tax increase that voters passed in 1982.

Perhaps the folks on the 22nd floor of One Government Center are unaware of the city's 15 percent unemployment rate and the fact that personal bankruptcies in northwest Ohio jumped 25 percent in 2009. In a different climate, if the economy were humming, there would probably still be plenty of harrumphing, but there would be far less outrage about the pay raises.

But unemployed people and residents facing foreclosure cannot and should not stomach the audacity of a proposed tax hike when employees get a hefty raise.

Each of these employees deserves the pay hike for his or her loyalty, efficiency, and long years of service.

However, in an economic climate in which so many, many people are hurting, when muncipal government asks them to ante up more after handing out fat raises - well, that's impudence.

Steve Herwat, deputy mayor of operations, said this week that the mayor's 2010 budget reflects a drop in spending in his office compared to former Mayor Carty Finkbeiner's spending levels.

If that's so, that's good. But in the minds of Toledo residents and unionized employees, no explanation is persuasive enough.

Mr. Herwat and City Council President Wilma Brown point out that the mayor has reduced staff and that these employees are entitled to the raises because they are in new positions.

After all, they argue, they are doing the work of more than one person.

In this recession, aren't we all?

No, Mayor Bell. As you are baptized in the fire of this political fiasco, not now.

Rose Russell is a Blade associate editor.

Contact her at rrussell@theblade.com



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