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Published: Friday, 11/14/2008

Proposed 2009 Toledo budget could leave no money for police, fire classes

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA AND LAREN WEBER
BLADE STAFF WRITERS

Toledo Mayor Carty Finkbeiner is considering eliminating the planned police cadet and firefighter classes for next year as a way to save $5.2 million as he works to slash up to $23 million needed to balance the city s 2009 general operating budget, Councilman George Sarantou said.

"I think they were considering it from a cost point of view," said Mr. Sarantou, chairman of council s finance committee. "But I don t know if that is what they are going to pursue."

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

Mayor Finkbeiner and senior staff members have remained silent on what measures they will propose to balance the operating budget.

City Finance Director John Sherburne said it will be extremely tight because of lower revenue and higher personnel and medical costs.

The city s income tax collections will probably be even lower in 2009 than this year because of increasing unemployment, Mr. Sherburne said.

Mr. Sarantou said he would not advocate raising the income tax to help balance the 2009 budget.

The city previously planned to hire 33 cadets, but the most recent plan reduced it to 20 or 22 cadets, Police Chief Mike Navarre said earlier this month.

Even with the addition of a new class, the department would still have fewer officers next year than its current 639, the chief said.

Dan Wagner, president of the Toledo Police Patrolman s Association, is concerned that the elimination of a police class would hinder the department s ability to respond to calls for service what he and Chief Navarre call its No. 1 priority.

"It really jeopardizes public safety when you cancel a police class when you re already at manpower levels that aren t adequate to patrol a city our size," Mr. Wagner said.

There are currently 639 sworn officers with 30 expected to retire next year.

Chief Navarre has said in the past he will be forced to make cuts within the department such as reducing community services officer, vice/narcotics officers, and detectives.

Mr. Wagner predicts that without a new class, crime in Toledo will increase. A reduction in vice/narcotics officers could result in a rise in drug activity, which Mr. Wagner said is the root of most crimes.

"When you let the drug culture run without any pressure, you re going to see property crime rates go up. People steal things from cars and break into homes to pay for drug habits," he said.

In addition, Mr. Wagner said there could potentially be more infighting among drug dealers leading to more shootings.

Mr. Wagner said without the additional officers, police "can t be proactive, only reactive."

Toledo City Council on Nov. 5 agreed to approve a suggestion by Councilman Joe McNamara that the city hire 40 new firefighters in December for next year s ranks rather than the planned 25 in order to save the city money on overtime.

The city budgeted $1.53 million for the fire department s overtime and had spent almost $2.5 million by the end of September.

Mr. McNamara said the fire department s required minimum manning of 103 firefighters is the reason for the over-budget overtime cost in 2008.

Hiring 40 firefighters would actually save the city $510,000 in the 2009 budget, he said data from the Finkbeiner administration showed.

Councilman Wilma Brown, chairman of council s public safety committee, said the minimum manning number, which is required by the firefighters contract, would likely be an issue when the administration sits down to negotiate the next contract.

Council President Mark Sobczak declined to speculate on what the 2009 budget will dictate for the police and fire classes.

"It s up to the mayor as to what he determines should be in his budget," Mr. Sobczak said. "It s a strong mayor form of government and he comes up with a plan and then asks council to fund that plan accordingly."

Councilman D. Michael Collins, a former police officer who has been a critic of the mayor, said eliminating the classes would be the wrong move.

"I would hope he would not be that irresponsible," Mr. Collins said. "If the mayor puts the safety forces on the chopping block to balance the budget, I will have a press conference and say this is clear and convincing evidence the mayor has no consideration for the safety of the officers and firefighters who are charged with the responsibility of protecting our community."

In order to save money next year, the city also is considering private operation of garbage collection and using more automated trucks, which require a single operator rather than a three-man crew. Mr. Finkbeiner also wants to save money from overtime by changing refuse and recycling pickup to a system that would shift collection days during holiday weeks.

Robert Reinbolt, the mayor s chief of staff, said the city could also save money by not replacing aging city cars with new ones.

The Finkbeiner administration is also cutting and scrimping to balance 2008 s budget because of lower-than-expected revenues and greater costs.

The current year general fund budget could be as high as $10 million in the red, Mr. Sherburne said.

The mayor plans to save $1 million by shutting down all nonessential governmental business for three days before the end of 2008 and at least four days during 2009, eliminate or postpone millions in capital improvement projects, and possibly order more layoffs.

The mayor wants all non-emergency city departments to stay home on Nov. 26, Dec. 26, and Dec. 31. The move would save about $300,000 for the general operating fund. He ordered the shutdown after learning Chicago Mayor Richard Daley had the same plan to help plug that city s $750 million deficit.

But some of the city of Toledo s unions are promising legal action Monday to block Mayor Finkbeiner s planned three-day governmental shutdown.



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