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Published: Friday, 12/10/2004

Police gang unit will be axed to cope with layoffs, chief says

BY TOM TROY
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Toledo firefighter Sterling Rahe applauds the remarks of others during last night's Toledo City Council meeting as his son, Jon, takes in the scene. Toledo firefighter Sterling Rahe applauds the remarks of others during last night's Toledo City Council meeting as his son, Jon, takes in the scene.
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The helicopter and motorcycle units also would be eliminated

Toledo police Chief Michael Navarre said last night he would disband the department's helicopter, motorcycle, and gang units to absorb what he said will be the loss of 34 police officers as a result of proposed city layoffs.

And police and fire union presidents increased their pressure on Toledo City Council to approve a refuse collection fee when the issue comes up for a vote Dec. 21.

Council, sitting as a committee of the whole, heard five hours of testimony on Mayor Jack Ford's proposals to eliminate a nearly $17 million operating budget deficit in 2005 - some of the testimony from angry labor leaders who said the Ford administration has caused a rise in costly grievances and arbitration.

The committee meeting was council's second on Mayor Ford's proposed budget. The mayor proposed eliminating 112 jobs - including 50 police officers and firefighters - to balance the budget at $223.6 million. Even then, the budget will be 2.5 percent lower than the 2004 budget.

Chief Navarre said he would lose 34 officers from the street counting the 27 to be laid off by Jan. 1 and seven who would have to be reassigned to cover empty civilian jobs in police communications. He said the priority would be on maintaining rapid response to "Priority 1" calls, such as injury accidents, robberies in progress, and other incidents involving possible injury.

Toledo Fire Chief Mike Bell speaks to Toledo City Council with many of his firefighters filling the chairs behind him. Toledo Fire Chief Mike Bell speaks to Toledo City Council with many of his firefighters filling the chairs behind him.
ALLAN DETRICH / BLADE Enlarge

That would require eliminating the motorcycle unit, ending the 40-hour weekly patrol of the helicopter temporarily, and eliminating the gang unit.

He said the department would become reactive rather than proactive.

Fire Chief Mike Bell said he believes his department can maintain its six-minute response time, even with 23 layoffs - if the 103-minimum staffing rule is followed.

Jim Martin, president of Toledo Firefighters Local 92, said the cuts should be made on the 22nd floor, a reference to Mayor Ford's offices, not to the city's rank-and-file work force.

He disputed the administration's commitment to continue to live up to the minimum staffing level of 103, saying he had a letter from the mayor's labor attorney saying the city would operate on a level of 97.

Mr. Martin said the cutbacks would reduce the number fire trucks in service.

"That has the potential to cost lives," Mr. Martin said. "If you can't find [the money], then you need to institute a [refuse] fee. It has to be done. We cannot let the city go downhill."

Gregg Harris, president of the Toledo Police Patrolman's Association, warned of increased gang activity in the schools and longer times responding to crimes. "I implore you to stand together and do the right thing. Vote that [refuse] tax and, at the same time, rescind the layoff notices," Mr. Harris said.

In a letter sent to the union presidents on Tuesday and disclosed during last night's hearing, Mr. Ford called on the unions to agree to concessions that would save the city $3.5 million in 2005 - about the amount of money needed to avert the public safety layoffs.

Union leaders showed little public inclination last night to negotiate concessions, claiming the 18-month pay freeze they agreed to in their most recent three-year contract was a concession.

Council President Louis Escobar has backed a $7 refuse collection fee, which he has mentioned reducing to $5 or $3, and renewed that call last night.

Mr. Escobar also sought to educate the more than 200 people who attended the hearing, telling them that the 2.25 percent income tax on wages is the city's biggest source of revenue - and those revenues are declining.

Councilman Bob McCloskey said the refuse fee has proven unpopular with callers to his office.

He said his callers feel "betrayed" because they approved a redistribution of the 0.75 percent income tax on Nov. 2, thinking that would solve the city's budget problem. The redistribution allows $4 million to be shifted from the capital improvement budget to the operating budget.

He reminded Mr. Harris that he had urged the unions to undertake an initiative petition this year to raise the 0.75 percent to 1 percent - an effort he said they rejected.

"No one wants to increase taxes, but I would rather do it in front than do it with a trash fee," Mr. McCloskey said. He told Mr. Harris to try to generate a show of public support for the refuse fee if he hopes to win a majority of councilmen. So far only a handful of the 12 council members have backed the fee.

Councilman Wilma Brown last night added her voice in support of a one or two-year $5 refuse collection fee.

Council heard from several police officers and firefighters who have received layoff notices.

Firefighter Gina Shubeta said: "We are the people who place our lives at risk every day for you. We ask you to please do whatever it takes to keep our jobs."

Council also heard from several residents in favor of the refuse collection fee.

Amy Hartman, a librarian who said she had represented a librarians' union, called the fee "a tiny increase."

"If you need to raise taxes, do it. The firefighters have a contract, and the contract needs to be fulfilled," Ms. Hartman said.

Contact Tom Troy at:

tomtroy@theblade.com

or 419-724-6058.



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