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Published: Monday, 2/2/2009

Cost of stalled talks criticized; Toledo councilman cites time off for fire, police reps

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The city of Toledo's cost of labor time lost to contract negotiations with its police and firefighters' unions could reach $1 million, a Toledo councilman charged.

At the same time, the city is struggling to close an $8.1 million budget deficit from 2008 that many thought would be much smaller.

"This cavalier spending, when they don't even have a fact-finding date set, is ridiculous," said D. Michael Collins, a former police officer and past president of the patrolmen's union. "We are compounding the bad economy with stupidity."

At issue is the length of time and number of police officers and firefighters released from active duty to negotiate and prepare for fact-finding.

There are six firefighters, five police patrolmen, and five police command officers released from duty.

"That is costing us $8,325 a day, and since Oct. 1, when this started, it is now up to $715,950," said Mr. Collins, a regular critic of Mayor Carty Finkbeiner.

Not only are they paid their full salary during those days, but because of a 103-firefighter manpower minimum, the six firefighters' absence is running up an overtime bill.

Getting the negotiations done quicker would have saved money for the cash-strapped city, Mr. Collins said.

"I went to the administration in August of 2008 and said they should meet with the bargaining units to see if you can reach an agreement because of - if for no other reason - the release time," he said. "Once October hits, I told them, they are gone and preparing for fact-finding."

Mayor Finkbeiner expressed contempt for Mr. Collins' take on the process.

"The best thing for the city of Toledo is for Mr. Collins to resign as city councilman and come to work for us as a labor consultant, because he seems to have all the answers but has none of the accountability," Mr. Finkbeiner said.

Dan Wagner, the Toledo Police Patrolman's Association president, said he contacted the Finkbeiner administration in March in an attempt to start talks, but each time was either ignored or denied a meeting.

"We have been denied any type of good-faith negotiations even since negotiations have begun," Mr. Wagner said. "Up until today, it has been a dog-and-pony show."

Robert Reinbolt, the mayor's chief of staff, said it was fortunate there were no new contracts inked over the summer.

"If we had sat down earlier last year, we would have not known about how bad [the economy] would be and we probably would have given out a contract we could not afford."

The TPPA and Toledo Firefighters Local 92 have been in talks with the city since their contracts expired Dec. 31.

The city tried unsuccessfully to get the released police officers back on the street.

Attorneys for the city and the TPPA reached an agreement Friday that would continue a temporary restraining order put in place against the city on Jan. 16. The agreement extends the order through March 24 and calls for expedited arbitration between the bargaining units of both parties.

Judge Charles Doneghy granted the temporary restraining order, at the union's request, to block the city "from implementing or continuing the return to work of TPPA bargaining committee members from union release time pending the operation of contractual arbitral remedies."

Acting City Law Director Adam Loukx said that agreement keeps the situation status quo while the parties continue to hammer out a contract. "It allows an arbitration to proceed that will decide the issues one way or another by the 24th," he said.

Mr. Wagner said the agreement to continue the temporary restraining order will allow the parties to work on the contract.

Union attorney Donato Iorio pointed to yesterday's agreement as a positive sign that the parties differences will be worked out. "What this shows is that when the city actually talks to us, we can get things done," he said.

Mr. Reinbolt said the city wanted to sign a new contract with the 800-member American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Local 7 before tackling the new police and fire contracts.

Local 7's three-year contract freezes salaries for the first two years while raising co-pay costs for health care, among other concessions. Mr. Reinbolt said he hoped police and fire would acknowledge the dire financial straits and agree to concessions.

Last week, Toledo City Council was told it must erase an $8.1 million deficit to close out 2008 - a shortfall many thought would be much smaller because council last month had redirected $8 million of unspent capital improvement money to help plug the hole.

The city's $6.4 million rainy-day fund could be applied to the 2008 deficit, but because $2 million of that was earmarked for the 2009 general-fund budget, the 2009 plan would need to be revised with more cuts, inflated revenue assumptions, or anticipated savings.

Contact Ignazio Messina at:

imessina@theblade.com

or 419-724-6171.



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