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Published: Tuesday, 4/14/2009

Toledo City Council puts off voting on major budget issues

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Toledo City Council Tuesday night put off voting on Mayor Carty Finkbeiner's plan to increase the city's monthly trash fee as well as his plan to charge Toledoans who work outside the city more income taxes - two money-making measures suggested by the mayor to help balance the city's books.

Councilman Joe McNamara said Mr. Finkbeiner should appear before council in person if he wants "to see movement" on those controversial plans.

Council also put off a plan offered by Councilman Frank Szollosi Tuesday night to layoff hundreds of city employees - including 150 police officers and 114 firefighters - to balance the city's remaining $20.7 million general fund deficit.

Mr. Szollosi said his plan is meant to show the city's bargaining units how dire the city's financial situation is in order to encourage the police, fire, and refuse unions to accept deep concessions in their current negotiations with the Finkbeiner administration.

"This encourages the collective bargaining process to come to a speedy conclusion," Mr. Szollosi said.

Council voted 8-3 to give Mr. Szollosi's plan "immediate consideration," a procedural move used to get a measure on council's agenda immediately. Voting against were Councilmen Mark Sobczak, D. Michael Collins, and Phillip Copeland.

After the ordinance was placed on council's agenda, Councilman Betty Shultz moved to send the measure to council's human resources committee.

Councilman Tom Waniewski was not present at Tuesday's meeting.

Mayor Finkbeiner in March said he wanted council to reduce all city salaries by 10 percent - with the exception of employees in the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Local 7, the Toledo Municipal Court, and exempt workers.

He also wants to suspend contributions to the employees' share into their state retirement pension system, which is a contractual obligation. That would save the city about $5.3 million through Dec. 31.

Those two measures have been on hold with council pending the outcome of negotiations between the Finkbeiner administration and the police, fire, and refuse unions.

Mr. Szollosi said his plan allows the cuts to be made through negotiations, rather than by "busting" the city's contracts with its employee unions.

Last week, council accepted $6.9 million in cuts and new revenue that were included in Mayor Finkbeiner's plan to balance the general fund deficit. But council postponed decisions on forcing city employees to take the salary and pension cuts; increasing the city's monthly refuse fee, and sub-contracting city trash collection.

The shortfall for 2009 will increase by $100,000 every day past May 1. The city's shortfall is driven by decreasing income tax receipts, which this year are expected to collect just $145 million in 2009 - the same amount collected in 1997. That figure is down from the $169.7 million anticipated when the mayor's budget was passed by council in January.

Also Tuesday, council voted 10-1 to approve a request from the Finkbeiner administration to spend $9.67 million to purchase two refuse containers for every Toledo household. Councilman Michael Ashford cast the lone no vote.

The new carts will be used to switch Toledo's refuse collection to automated pickup with a single driver - which is expected to save the city millions in labor costs.

The mayor's budget-balancing plan called for subcontracting Toledo's trash collection with a company that would use a one-man automated truck beginning Sept. 1 to save $1 million through Dec. 31. The city could still choose to purchase its own automated trucks and use city workers to operate the vehicles rather than sticking with the current, more costly a three-man crew for each refuse truck.

Bill Franklin, the city's director of public service, said switching to automated trucks would conservatively save the city $3 million a year above the cost of financing the new containers.

"Either way, we need to purchase the cans and the most prudent thing to do is to purchase them now," Mr. Franklin said.

The money will be repaid over at least 10 years through a bond, Mr. Franklin said.

"We have to go to automation," Mr. Collins said. "It is impossible to continue refuse pickup in the city of Toledo without it."

Mr. Collins said the only alternative would be to have Toledoans contract individually with a private trash hauler.

"If we don't move on t his we will lose our prices because the prices are going up," he said.

Mr. Ashford said he was disappointed with the ordinance to buy the containers.

"We don't have a contract in place to support automation," Mr. Ashford said.

Councilman Lindsay Webb said she reversed her position on automation and is now in favor of the switch. Ms. Webb said she opposed it because of concerns raised by elderly people in her district who said the new carts would be too large.

After learning that smaller carts would be available, and with the millions in savings that would be realized, Ms. Webb agreed that the city should choose to switch to automation.

Council also put off a vote on the mayor's plan to generate $500,000 for the city by billing homeowner insurance for responding to a structure fire.



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