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Published: Wednesday, 7/16/2008

Finkbeiner breaks tie, rejects increase in drug-testing funds for Municipal Court

BY ALEX M. PARKER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Toledo Mayor Carty Finkbeiner yesterday continued his battle with Toledo Municipal Court over its funding, casting a tie-breaking vote in City Council to deny a request for drug-testing money.

In a letter written Monday, Mr. Finkbeiner claimed Judge Timothy Kuhlman and the court's other judges want to be held to an "untouchable standard" of funding while other city departments cut back.

"You may be the last sector of Americans to realize that business is not being done 'as usual' in America - or Toledo," Mr. Finkbeiner wrote.

"The banks, housing industry, manufacturing industry, plus the investment markets are 'in the tank.' As a result, so are the federal, Ohio, and Toledo-Lucas County budgets."

The letter was a response to last week's court order to the city to increase the court's security funding - one of three such orders the court has issued recently.

In his letter, Mr. Finkbeiner said all city departments experienced funding cuts.

"We must cut drastically all our budgets. We can't insulate yours," he wrote. "You don't want a battle that pits [the Toledo Police Department, Toledo Fire Department,] and other city employees vs. the municipal court judges, with only your needs met and all others sacrificed."

The city has appealed the court's orders to Ohio's 6th District Court of Appeals.

During yesterday's council meet-ing, Councilmen Frank Szollosi and D. Michael Collins blasted Mr. Finkbeiner's letter.

"It's below the dignity of the office of mayor," Mr. Ashford said.

Mr. Szollosi also denounced the letter.

"I think if [Mr. Finkbeiner] continues down this path, he will be found in contempt," Mr. Szollosi said.

Judge Kuhlman was unavailable for comment last night.

Council rejected by a 7-6 vote, with Mr. Finkbeiner casting a rare tie-breaking vote, one of the court's requests - to increase funding for drug testing by $45,000.

"We must cut and balance the budget," the mayor said. "For that reason, I vote no."

Mr. Finkbeiner typically does not attend council meetings and has cast only a handful of tie-breaking votes.

While explaining his decision, Mr. Finkbeiner's speech was interrupted by Mr. Ashford, who said council's rules do not allow any debate once a vote has been called.

Mr. Finkbeiner replied that whenever he has come to council meetings, he has been "treated quite rudely," and he continued with his speech, despite Mr. Ashford's continued protests.

The funding would have given $45,000 to the municipal court, through estimated increases in revenue from the refuse-collection fee. Council split 6-6 on the matter during its July 1 meeting.

Mr. Szollosi yesterday proposed an ordinance for the next meeting to comply with all the municipal court's orders, including a funding boost from $1.67 million to $1.8 million for court security as well as the $45,000 for drug testing.

Mr. Collins said council shouldn't change its position while the issue is in front of the appellate court.

He said he felt the court's budget was reasonable.

"You live with the money you have rather than the money you wish you have," Mr. Collins said. "In my opinion, the budget that has been provided to the Toledo Municipal Court is not going to in any way compromise the internal security of the court."

In other business, Mr. Finkbeiner announced that the city's bond ratings had been raised by Moody's and Standard & Poor's, two Wall Street financial firms.

The bond rating determines interest rates and debt payments when the city borrows money.

Moody's raised the city's rating from "A3 with a negative outlook" to "A3 with a stable outlook," while Standard & Poor's raised the rating from A to A+.

In a news release, Standard & Poor's cited the city's efforts to balance its budget and increase its reserve fund as well as the successful renewal of the city's income tax in March.

Council delayed votes on several financing measures for the Marina District project.

Councilman George Sarantou, chairman of council's finance committee, said the administration asked for the delay while details are worked out with Dillin Riverfront Properties.

Contact Alex M. Parker at:

aparker@theblade.com

or 419-724-6107.



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