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Published: Friday, 1/16/2009

Businessman raising money for police, fire

BY LAREN WEBER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

A local businessman is trying to establish a grass- roots organization to raise the $2 million the city needs to hire new police cadets and firefighters.

The concept for the nonprofit organization, dubbed Feet on the Street, was developed by Toledo resident Jim Wheeler, territory manager for Seneca Medical.

"It's all over," Mr. Wheeler said, referring to shrinking police and fire ranks in cities across the state and country. "Nobody knows how to attack it."

With support from the community and city, Mr. Wheeler hopes to raise money through donations and also through golf outings, auctions, and summer events.

"The idea is to get the community involved," he said. "It's not like multiple sclerosis, where it only applies to certain people. It applies to everyone."

Mayor Carty Finkbeiner announced in November that the city would hire no new police officers or firefighters this year to save about $5.3 million toward the $21 million in cutbacks built into this year's operating fund budget.

But earlier this month, Toledo City Council approved a plan that would allow voters in September to decide whether the city should alter the way its 0.75 percent income tax is allocated - dedicating less money for capital improvement projects and using that money to hire police and firefighters.

It would cost roughly $2 million to hire 20 police officers and 40 firefighters.

Mr. Wheeler said the plan is to put half of the money raised toward hiring police and firefighters with the remaining to be used for a media campaign to promote the organization and those who donated to the cause.

Councilman George Sarantou, chairman of the council's finance committee, said there is an obvious need for more police and firefighters.

The mayor's office confirmed yesterday that Mr. Wheeler has a meeting scheduled with Mr. Finkbeiner next Thursday to discuss the proposal.

The police department has gone from 667 sworn officers in 2007 to 639.

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

Similarly, the fire department dropped from 499 firefighters in 2007 to 479 last year.

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

"I'm very encouraged when the business community steps up to the plate and indicates they want to help solve the problem," Mr. Sarantou said. "That's patriotism at the local level."

Dan Wagner, president of the Toledo Police Patrolman's Association, also supports the efforts of Mr. Wheeler.

"I think a lot of people have realized that safety in a town is a high priority," he said. "When you have a safe town, it comes back to help you financially in your own business."

In order to accept the money, Mr. Sarantou said council members must first pass an ordinance designating how the money will be spent.

Contact Laren Weber at:

lweber@theblade.com

or 419-724-6050.



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