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Published: Friday, 11/16/2007

Finkbeiner details $251M Toledo budget; judge says proposal would 'decimate' criminal justice

BY TOM TROY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Mayor Carty Finkbeiner s proposed 2008 budget makes deep cuts in jail expenses, courthouse security, and nonviolent incarceration and likely will provoke a battle with Toledo Municipal Court and Lucas County leaders.

The nearly $4.6 million in savings from the nooks and crannies of the criminal justice administration already is drawing fire.

The mayor s current proposals will decimate the criminal justice system in Toledo, Toledo Municipal Court Presiding Judge Tim Kuhlman said.

The mayor s proposed budget of $251,789,258 is an increase of 1.7 percent over the 2007 budget of $247,578,871.

The austere budget proposal distributed last night to the homes of City Council members and via the Internet to the news media blames sluggish income taxes, which fell short of the current year s projection, for the reductions.

Council must vote on the general fund budget by March 31. The mayor is required by charter to issue a budget estimate by Nov. 15 each year.

The proposed spending plan also:

• Reduces the number of trash collection routes from 33 to 27, which will mean longer work days for the reduced (from 90 to 83) number of trash collectors. The budget retains the $5.50 monthly refuse fee to generate about $4.8 million in revenue something that will require council approval.

• Plans to convert three of the 27 trash routes to automated trash collection, requiring $19.1 million in new equipment over three years.

• Provides for new classes of 25 police officers and 25 firefighters, starting Oct. 1.

• Calls for the city to take over paying the $25,000 salary of the manager of the Erie Street Market, reflecting the end of a three-year management agreement with CitiFest Inc. CitiFest last month asked the city to take back the market after claiming it lost more than $90,000.

The mayor s proposed budget seeks $4.6 million in savings from criminal justice operations, most of which is removed from the mayor s day-to-day oversight. To save on criminal justice costs, the new city budget would:

• Require police officers to stop citing city ordinances when making arrests and begin citing state laws only, which would require the county to pay for booking prisoners into the jail. Other large Ohio cities have taken this step, some decades ago.

• Hire a private security firm or contract with the Lucas County Common Pleas security department to provide security at Toledo Municipal Court, in place of the sheriff s deputies who now guard the building and escort prisoners to and from the jail.

• Freeze funding to the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council at this year s reduced level, eliminate 35 beds assigned to Toledo for nonviolent misdemeanor offenders, and reduce city spending on pretrial services, which monitor defendants who have been released on bond.

Judge Kuhlman said the budget reductions undermine cooperative relationships the court has with Lucas County and other jurisdictions.

He said losing the computerized records and scheduling system run by the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council would force the clerk s office to manually schedule about 1,000 court cases daily. And contracting with a part-time security service to protect the busy municipal courthouse endangers employees and the public, he said.

The judges have absolutely no intention of allowing the mayor to create a security risk for the public in Toledo Municipal Court, the judge said. We can get a pretty rough crowd around here and we need to be able to guarantee the public that comes into our court that they re going to be protected.

Councilman George Sarantou, the Finance Committee chairman, said council s budget task force and the finance committee will delve into the mayor s budget.

Criminal justice costs are a huge portion of our budget, Mr. Sarantou said. What they re proposing are major changes. We have to make sure it s workable.

The mayor complied with two new requirements of the city charter, as approved by voters Nov. 6, by balancing his budget proposal and by posting it online. Last year s budget proposal went to council with a built-in $10.6 million deficit.

Councilmen began getting their budget books at home about 6 p.m. News reporters were alerted to an online version of the budget at 7 p.m.

The carefully choreographed distribution of the budget mystified council members, most of whom showed up for yesterday s meeting of council s finance committee, a meeting that usually draws only two or three members.

Finance Director John Sherburne acknowledged that the finished budget books were in the building.

Why have them in the building when almost all the finance committee members are here and not give them to us? It s ridiculous, Councilman Betty Shultz said.

She also urged the administration to give council members the budget books a day earlier than they are provided to the news media.

The budget does not count on money from selling The Docks, or any other city-owned real estate that is for sale. Mr. Finkbeiner said that if The Docks is sold, the money would go into a fund to benefit economic development, or another specific purpose.

Also not reflected in the budget is revenue that would be earned from leasing the city-owned tow lot to a private operator. It was not clear whether the administration has dropped its proposal to privatize the lot.

The budget notes that the withholding category of income tax revenues is underperforming. But income taxes paid by businesses are up 16 percent so far this year. This is an indication that the business climate is robust, the mayor s letter introducing the budget states.

The budget can be found online at http://toledo.oh.gov. Also available is a new blog on City Council s Web site, linked from the city s Web site, on which citizens can post comments.

Contact Tom Troy at: tomtroy@theblade.com or 419-724-6058.



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