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Published: Thursday, 11/25/2004

Toledo may revise plans for trash fee

BY TOM TROY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

With several fellow council members reluctant to support a $7 monthly trash collection fee, and following an outpouring of public opposition, City Council President Louis Escobar said he may reduce his proposal to $5 and exclude seniors.

Toledo Mayor Jack Ford yesterday continued to express disagreement with the fee idea, but didn't rule it out.

Hailed a week ago by the city unions as practically a done deal to avoid laying off police officers, firefighters, and other city workers, the fee has not been widely embraced on council.

Council members said they have been inundated with calls and mail, most of it against the fee, as well as against laying off police and firefighters.

Mr. Escobar, who said he will introduce his plan on Tuesday, would need seven votes to enact a one-year fee or nine if Mr. Ford threatens a veto.

"I'm not sure if we'll use $7 or $5 - and there will be a discount for seniors," Mr. Escobar said. "My purpose is for it not to be a long-term revenue source, but to get us through this difficult period."

A $7 fee would raise about $7.5 million, and a $5 fee would raise about $4.1 million - both more than the $3.3 million needed to avert 27 police and 23 firefighter layoffs.

Mayor Ford has proposed cutting a total of 112 city jobs as part of averting a $16.8 million deficit next year.

Yesterday, the mayor said he feels city government should stay within its present means. "Citizens, particularly elderly citizens, don't want another tax at this time," Mr. Ford said.

"If they are assured even with these cuts that they will have a strong level of security, both fire and police, then they will support our decision to right-size the Toledo city budget," Mr. Ford said. "We don't have the population we had 20 years ago."

Mr. Ford said the police and fire chiefs have assured him the cutbacks can be made without undermining public safety - a claim the heads of the police and fire unions have disputed.

Of city council's stand on the fee, Mr. Ford said, "Last week there might have been a majority to approve the fee. I don't know if that's necessarily the case today."

Mr. Escobar said that "gutting" city services is a bad alternative to a one-year fee.

Half of the members of council are undecided, while the others are split 50-50, according to a survey by The Blade.

Councilmen Frank Szollosi, Rob Ludeman, and Peter Gerken said they oppose the trash collection fee.

Mr. Escobar and councilmen Karyn McConnell Hancock and Betty Shultz said they would support the fee.

Undecided are Councilmen Bob McCloskey, Michael Ashford, Ellen Grachek, George Sarantou, Wilma Brown, and Wade Kapszukiewicz.

Ms. Grachek said there are programs and positions that should be eliminated before either a fee or a public safety layoff is implemented.

"I have gotten a lot of calls, and they are emphatic calls," Ms. Grachek said. "We don't need to go to the drastic step of imposing a fee, a tax, without cutting other things."

Ms. Brown said the fee would help avert layoffs, and said the public doesn't understand that it would be an emergency measure, from which seniors would be exempt. Lowering it to $5 would help, she said.

Council members, council staff, and Mayor Ford are increasingly talking about extracting concessions from the unions, including giving up some holidays or giving back the 1 percent lump sum payment due in 2005.

"What some are calling perks or special supplements could be dropped for a year or two to help us work our way out," Mr. Ford said.

City council has scheduled public hearings for Dec. 6 and Dec. 9 to review the mayor's proposed 2005 budget.

The budget crisis stems from a slump in income taxes, which make up most of the general fund's revenue.

Contact Tom Troy at:

tomtroy@theblade.com

or 419-724-6058.



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