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Published: 11/16/2005

No cuts sought in final budget of Ford tenure

BY TOM TROY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Mayor Jack Ford yesterday presented Toledo City Council the last budget of his tenure - a $235.1-million plan that for the first time during his administration doesn't require layoffs and budget cuts.

The budget is a 4.5 percent increase over this year's $225 million general operating fund budget. The extra money came from a burst of income tax revenue which signals the return of jobs and business profits, Mr. Ford said.

"The upturn in the economy that we have worked so hard and long to improve appears to finally be arriving," he said.

He cautioned that the budget depends on Mayor-elect Carty Finkbeiner's ability to get the same wage and benefit settlements with police, fire, and Teamster unions that he won in negotiations this year with Local 7 of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees.

The Local 7 agreement, approved in September, will raise wages 1.5 percent Jan. 1 and shift some of the cost of health care to city employees. Seven other unions that have yet to negotiate new three-year contracts with the city typically follow Local 7's lead.

The city charter requires the proposed spending plan to be submitted by Nov. 15 annually. Council is required to approve a budget by March 31.

Mr. Ford said the budget will allow the city to reach a total of 705 police officers, up from about 675 now. That's five more than the 700 advocated by Mr. Finkbeiner during the recent mayoral campaign.

Most city departments would see increases in their budgets, propelled largely by the 1.5 percent wage hikes and significantly higher health-care costs.

The police budget would rise from $70.9 million this year to $75.7 million in 2006.

The fire budget is projected to decline, from $51.6 million to $50.9 million, even with the addition of 15 fire and rescue recruits later in the year.

The cost of trash collection and the landfill would rise from $13.4 million this year to $15.2 million in 2006, an increase of 12 percent.

Spending on recreation, an easy target for budget cuts since 2001, would increase from $1.7 million this year to $2 million in 2006, while parks and forestry would rise from $2.2 million to $2.4 million.

The mayor's office would see a slight increase, from $1.33 million to $1.34 million, and council's budget would go up from $1.42 million to $1.48 million.

Councilman George Sarantou, chairman of council's budget committee, said the 8.1 percent increase in income taxes projected for 2006 may be unrealistic. "How in the world are we going to collect that much more income tax?" he asked. "That's a huge gap to close in one year."

He said he was glad the mayor allocated $1.5 million to replenish the rainy-day fund, and said he hopes Mr. Finkbeiner is as open with the budget as Mr. Ford has been.

Mr. Finkbeiner would not comment until after a council hearing on the budget set for tomorrow, according to his spokesman, Elizabeth Phillips.

Four years ago yesterday, then-Mayor Finkbeiner handed Mr. Ford a general fund budget of $230.7 million. The recession forced Mr. Ford and City Council to cut spending over the next four years.

Contact Tom Troy at:

tomtroy@theblade.com

or 419-724-6058.



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