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Published: Friday, 11/16/2007

County trying to figure out effects of Finkbeiner's budget proposal

BY JOE VARDON
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Toledo Mayor Carty Finkbeiner's proposal to trim the city's criminal-justice costs will add, if approved, an unwelcome burden on Lucas County's budget.

Yesterday the mayor introduced cuts that could save Toledo $4.6 million in booking and holding prisoners, security at Toledo Municipal Court, public defenders, and pretrial programs. The city pays the county about $5 million a year for these services.

County officials insist they don't know exactly how much their bottom line would be affected by the mayor's proposed cuts, and say they're analyzing his proposal and examining ways to save money on their end.

But Commissioner Ben Konop said Mr. Finkbeiner's suggested solutions to Toledo's budget woes don't address the real problem at hand - the rising cost of crime.

"The last time I checked, every resident of Toledo is also a resident of Lucas County," Mr. Konop said. "Really, the taxpayer is the ultimate loser. Eventually the cost goes back to them. The challenge is the county needs to cut costs, too. It's not like we're flush with cash where the city can easily off-load its costs onto us."

The county will spend about $88 million on criminal justice this year, which is about 61 percent of its general fund budget.

Jim O'Neal, administrator for the county jail, said arrests by Toledo police account for about 75 percent of the 26,000 bookings into the jail each year. The city could end up paying the county $2.3 million this year for booking and holding prisoners. But having city police charge some criminals under state laws rather than city ordinances, as Mr. Finkbeiner has proposed, would likely switch that cost to the county.

Unless Toledo police begin making fewer arrests, the county will have to find a way to cover those costs.

"That's the big question," said John Zeitler, director of the Lucas County Office of Management and Budget. "All the city is doing is shifting costs, not being more efficient."

Virtually all of the county officials contacted by The Blade said there is much more negotiating to be done with the city before an exact effect on the county's budget can be determined.

The city will pay the county about $1.7 million this year for security provided at municipal court by Lucas County Sheriff James Telb's deputies - a program Mr. Finkbeiner wants to discontinue. The mayor suggested filling the void by paying part-time security officers or contracting with the county to use the security officers who work at the Lucas County Common Pleas Court.

Mr. O'Neal said such a move might not be logistically possible.

"There would be a jurisdictional dilemma if that happened," Mr. O'Neal said. "The sheriff might have to deputize part-time officers instead of using his own deputies, and I'm not sure if he would do that or not. The deputies who work at municipal court now also have to transport prisoners to and from jail, and I don't know if he'd want people from other agencies coming into the jail to transport prisoners."

County officials aren't sure if losing their contract to provide security at municipal court would have a noticeably negative financial impact. Commissioner Pete Gerken said the deputies at municipal court could be repositioned back at the jail to cut down on overtime costs there, while Mr. Konop said those deputies could be used on patrol.

Tina Skeldon Wozniak, president of the county commissioners, said she hoped the city wouldn't attempt to make any of these moves without many more rounds of negotiations with the county.

Contact Joe Vardon at:

jvardon@theblade.com

or 419-410-5055.



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