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Published: Friday, 12/5/2008

Toledo City Council looking for police, fire funds

BLADE STAFF

Toledo City Council members yesterday combed through the 2009 police and fire budgets, in some cases line by line, in search of money to hire police cadets and firefighters next year.

Wilma Brown, chairman of council's public safety committee, said council members understand the need to hire additional police officers and firefighters, but they first must find the funding to do so.

"We know we need firemen. We know we need policemen," Ms. Brown said. "We still have a job to do - find money for a police and fire class."

Mayor Carty Finkbeiner announced last month the city would hire no new police officers or firefighters for 2009 to save about $5.3 million toward the needed $21 million in cutbacks built into next year's general operating fund budget.

The police and fire ranks have declined for the last several years, and both chiefs gave grim predictions of what is to come if classes are not hired.

The police department has gone from 686 sworn officers in 2006 to its current 639.

Chief Mike Navarre said the department will drop to 607 officers by the end of 2009 if a class is not hired, forcing him to cut services.

"Next year, we're going to be in uncharted waters," he said.

Beginning Jan. 1, the number of community service officers will be reduced from 12 to eight and the centralized mountain bicycle unit will be disbanded - all in an effort to put more officers on the street responding to calls.

There could be additional cuts, Chief Navarre said.

Similarly, the fire department has dropped from 496 firefighters in 2006 to 479 this year.

Fire Chief Mike Wolever said without additional firefighters, overtime costs are estimated to be about $4.1 million in 2009 and could jump to $6 million in 2010 as a result of the department's 103 minimum staffing requirement.

If 40 new recruits are hired next year, 10 of whom are already trained firefighters, Chief Wolever said the overtime savings would be realized in 2010 when costs would drop to about $800,000.

"We know what hiring a class does to overtime. It just takes several months [to realize the benefits]," he said. "The longer that delay occurs, the harder it is to catch up on overtime."

Chief Wolever said the department has been "tightening the belts" for the last two years, including cutting staff positions from 28 in 2002 to 13 this year. "We think we're as lean as we can be at this point in staff positions," he said.

Chief Navarre said more than 90 percent of his $80.6 million budget for 2009 is personnel costs.

"There really isn't a lot [of money] I have control over," he said.

Councilman George Sarantou questioned Chief Navarre about the costs associated with funding the mounted patrol.

The nine-horse patrol will cost taxpayers about $24,000 for operating costs, $55,000 for the building's lease, $560,000 for eight officers, and another $80,000 for a sergeant, totaling $719,000.

Chief Navarre said the mounted patrol is an excellent public relations tool for the city, noting he has received hundreds of compliments from people who attend Toledo Mud Hens games at Fifth Third Field downtown. "I think it's something you have to look at for public perception," he said.

The chief said he is meeting today with members of his labor management committee, which will recommend to him what additional services should be cut. He said he is unsure if they'll recommend disbanding the mounted patrol.

- Laren Weber



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