Toledo city officials last night tried to explain the need for a trash fee and to make the case that city government in Toledo is cheaper than many other cities its size, in the first of three public meetings to discuss the city's $11.9 million budget mess.
About 90 citizens, in addition to Mayor Carty Finkbeiner, his cabinet, and eight members of Toledo City Council, attended the two-hour meeting in Augsburg Lutheran Church, 1342 West Sylvania Ave.
Speakers called the proposed $6-a-month trash collection fee double taxation. Others said the city's move into transporting ambulance patients to the hospital was bad for private business.
"It makes your budget look better, but in the long run it's not really good for the city," Martin Keller, 47, said.
The mayor and Deputy Fire Chief Mike Wolever said the new city-run ambulance business would improve care because firefighters already are the first responders at accident scenes.
The mayor said he experienced the reliability of the city's rescue squads when he had a fainting spell after his March 8, 2004, heart bypass surgery. Firefighters were at his door "within seconds," he said.
The ambulance service, approved Tuesday by council, is expected to generate $1.2 million a year, but is expected to force ambulance companies to lay off paramedics.
Rob Beckett, 25, a city water department worker, suggested rather than cutting city employees' health care, that the cuts start closer to the top of city government.
Council President Rob Ludeman has proposed city workers contribute toward their health insurance premiums, now fully paid by the city.
Chief of Staff Robert Reinbolt said five director positions and 10 commissioners - the two highest levels of management - are being eliminated.
Stephen Goldman, 64, accused the mayor of illegally dismantling the office of affirmative action/contract compliance because the reorganization had not been submitted to council for approval.
Two weeks ago, the mayor fired Perlean Griffin, executive director of affirmative action/contract compliance, after she refused to support his plan to split up affirmative action between the departments of human resources and finance.
Yesterday, Mr. Reinbolt put a new spin on the change, saying the department wasn't being abolished. He said the four-person department would simply report to the same director as the human resources department, Theresa Gabriel.
Marie Pollex, 55, a South Toledo resident who attends Augsburg, said she lost her medical receptionist job and is trying to get by on a part-time salary.
"It's not easy. You can't be digging into our pockets more and more," Ms. Pollex said.
The mayor said comparisons with other cities' tax rates and trash services shows Toledo doesn't tax citizens excessively.
Bill Franklin, director of public service, said the 0.75-percent temporary income tax first enacted in 1982 no longer covers the cost of refuse collection and disposal because of costly new environmental requirements.
That didn't stop more than a few speakers from suggesting they were being double-taxed for trash collection.
One audience member wanted to know if she would get a refund on her taxes equal to the trash fee. Mr. Franklin said the fee is a surcharge to maintain the level of service, and that no refunds are planned.
Early in the meeting, Mr. Finkbeiner and Councilman Frank Szollosi squabbled briefly over the microphone.
When Mr. Szollosi tried to talk about a report he had compiled on the growing local tax burden, following the mayor's opening presentation, the mayor refused to give him the floor.
"We're not here to showboat, Frank," Mr. Finkbeiner said, putting his hand on Mr. Szollosi's shoulder in what looked like an attempt to propel him back to his seat.
Mr. Szollosi said since councilmen were not given a chance to speak, that conveyed the erroneous impression that everyone on council agrees with the mayor.
Contact Tom Troy at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6058.