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Published: Friday, 9/5/2008

Toledo council increases pay for 6 staff members

BY JC REINDL
BLADE STAFF WRITER

While Mayor Carty Finkbeiner's administration has been mulling over whether to lay off employees to fix Toledo's looming budget deficit, City Council members have been giving their administrative staff double-digit percentage point raises.

Council last month enacted pay raises for its six legislative aides, who are nonunion city employees responsible for assisting council members with correspondence, research, and clerical tasks.

The bump pushed the annual salaries of four workers to $45,289 from $38,613 - a 17 percent increase. One worker went to $45,289 a year from $32,818, a 38 percent raise.

The most senior legislative aide, with the city for more than 30 years, saw her salary rise to $47,282 a year from $40,175.

Most of the aides jumped pay classifications and job titles from Administrative Technician 1 to Administrative Technician 2.

Council President Mark Sobczak led the push for the raises, which required only a majority consensus of council members and not a formal vote.

He said yesterday that the six aides were long underpaid and overworked and, since 2006, have been doing the added work of three staff members - one assistant clerk of council and two managers of operations - whose positions were cut and not replaced.

"I have to be looking out for what's best for City Council, and we have to be sure that we have the proper staff and the help that we need to do the citizens' business" Mr. Sobczak said.

It was unclear yesterday just who on council was for or against the pay raises.

While Mr. Sobczak said all but two of the 12 members were in favor, several more council members contacted by The Blade late yesterday afternoon expressed misgivings and second thoughts.

Councilmen Michael Ashford and Phillip Copeland both were surprised to learn of the size of the raises.

"This is news to me. I thought they were somewhere in the mid-30s," Mr. Ashford said. "I didn't think they were making that much."

Councilman Lindsay Webb said she was unaware that the raises could begin without a public hearing or vote.

"I never said yes and I never said no," she said. "I don't think I ever gave [Mr. Sobczak] the green light."

There also was confusion yesterday about from where the money for the raises would come.

Robert Reinbolt, the mayor's chief of staff, informed Mr. Sobczak last night that the city's finance director, John Sherburne, has yet to sign off on the raises.

"It's difficult for a finance director to say, 'OK, we can start giving these raises,' when there's no money in the budget to cover it," Mr. Reinbolt said.

Money in a council miscellaneous account will continue funding the raises for the time being. But to lock in the raises, council needs to find unused money in its budget.

Mr. Sobczak said that task could require a formal vote.

"There is the money in the budget, it's just in different accounts that we'll have to move around," he said. "We'll have to do what we'll have to do."

Councilman Joe McNamara said that although he appreciates his aide's hard work, he can't support raises for all six of them because of the city's overall financial situation.

Mayor Finkbeiner said this week there could be 10 to 15 employee layoffs by early October as the city struggles to close a projected budget gap of $3 million to $5 million.

The mayor has taken heat from some council members for the recent hiring of another public relations assistant for the city at an annual salary of $38,000.

"There are many people who work for the city who deserve raises, but the revenues are down and it does not show good leadership to be doing this right now," Mr. McNamara said.

Mr. Sobczak, who was elected council president in January, said he decided to pursue the raises after learning that the six aides constituted the lowest-paid administrative staff positions in the city, and had taken on the work of the three higher-paid administrators who left in 2006.

The annual salary of the departed clerk of council was about $75,000; those of the managers of operations were about $53,000, he said.

Mr. Sobczak also presented data showing Toledo's council legislative aides as the lowest paid among four other large Ohio cities: Columbus, Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Akron. Salary data for Dayton were unavailable.

Councilman D. Michael Collins said he supports the pay raises because the aides are well worth the money.

"I spend 45 to 50 hours a week just on my council stuff and without my legislative aide, I don't know how I could possibly get through it."

Councilman Frank Szollosi said he believes the aides' pay raises are a good alternative to filling the former staff positions.

"It's certainly a lot less to give people bumps than to fill positions," he said.

Contact JC Reindl at:

jreindl@theblade.com

or 419-724-6065.



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