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Toledo finance chief seeks 7% budget cuts

Insisting it's just an exercise, Toledo's finance director, John Sherburne, has asked all city department directors to submit a proposal for cutting their budgets by 7 percent in 2007.

"This is an exercise to see if they can do it and to see if they can cost out the services they are providing," he said yesterday.

So far, city revenues are running "somewhat behind" the projected 4 percent growth rate predicted for this year, Mr. Sherburne said in a recent report to City Council.

The 2006 budget of $235 million is based on revenues rising 4 percent. As of Aug. 31, revenues for 2006 were 3.1 percent ahead of the same period last year.

Mayor Carty Finkbeiner and Mr. Sherburne said they aren't predicting a budget crisis in 2007, but rather are trying to get department directors to focus on identifying the most essential work that they do.

Mr. Sherburne predicted that the budget proposal to be submitted to council by Nov. 15 will fall somewhere between a 7 percent cut and a no-growth budget.

The 7 percent budget-cut exercise has sent waves of worry through the city work force, recalling the threats to lay off dozens of city police and firefighters in 2004.

"Even under the Ford administration we were shorthanded and we couldn't keep up with the workload," said Don Czerniak, president of the largest city union, Local 7 of the American Federation of State, County, and City Employees.

He said the cutbacks are aimed at diverting city funding to hire more police officers, but he said there could be loss of service in other functions Toledoans consider important, such as snow-plowing.

"Not only my people but the citizens of Toledo should be concerned. It's going to cost them as much or more in overtime than the savings he's projecting," Mr. Czerniak said.

Next year's budget will include negotiated across-the-board pay raises for unionized city employees and a likely uptick in the pay scales of about 75 directors, commissioners, and managers.

Mr. Finkbeiner said the city's finance department is trying out a new budget philosophy called "outcome-based budgeting," aimed at requiring departments to focus on what they should be doing, rather than on continuing what they have been doing.

"We are of the opinion that we should do what we are legally required to do and what we do very well," the mayor said. What doesn't fit into those categories are candidates for downsizing, partnering with Lucas County, or privatizing, he said.

As examples, he cited the possibility of contracting recreational programming, such as baseball leagues, and shutting down some of the city's 12 public swimming pools.

"There's no question that some, not all, [of the pools] may be mothballed because of lack of use and the cost associated with keeping them open," Mr. Finkbeiner said.

George Sarantou, chairman of council finance and budget committee, said there is a demand on council for a new police class of at least 30 recruits.

Mr. Sarantou said council will want to see the department directors' 7 percent-cut plans.

But Councilman Frank Szollosi said if the city is facing a budget crisis this year, the mayor deserves some of the blame.

Mr. Szollosi cited the 17 people hired for the parks, recreation, and forestry department earlier in the year as well as controversial purchases such as a shower stall for the mayor's office and new landscape lighting downtown, and Mr. Finkbeiner's appointments of political supporters to city jobs when he took office in January. "The personnel numbers went up when I think they should have been held in check," Mr. Szollosi said.

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