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Published: Tuesday, 4/28/2009

Finkbeiner renews call to OK tax, fee hikes

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Mayor Finkbeiner also threatened additional layoffs if council does not vote Tuesday night to increase the city's monthly trash fee, approve collecting more income taxes from Toledoans who work outside the city, and suspend for 12 months contributions to the city employees' share into their state retirement pension system.

"City council has had the administration's balanced budget plan for weeks," the mayor wrote to council Monday. "We still have a $20.8 million budget deficit."

The letter said: "There will be vigorous positive momentum to our budget resolution by doing so. The sooner we act, the greater is the gain on our budget deficit."

But some councilmen were doubtful the mayor's proposals would even get a vote Tuesday night.

George Sarantou, chairman of council's finance committee, said councilmen were disappointed that the Finkbeiner administration and the police patrol officers' union failed last week to agree on a new contract during an all-day meeting with a fact finder.

"Looks like we have a really slow boat to China on these negotiations and we don't know what is going to happen at this point except more layoffs," Mr. Sarantou said. "I don't think it's fair to the taxpayers to slap fees and other increases on them until we show we are doing everything we can to reduce our expenditures."

Neither the city nor the Toledo Police Patrolman's Association would reveal what derailed negotiations. The two sides have a second fact-finding meeting scheduled for May 28.

The police layoffs are among 242 furloughs of city workers ordered by Mr. Finkbeiner because tax revenues have plummeted along with the domestic auto industry and the national economy.

Council President Mark Sobczak said the tax and fee increases were unlikely to be addressed tonight.

"We have been clear in how we set things and I don't think council is going to be willing to raise revenues before we see a shrinking of government and cutting our expenses," Mr. Sobczak said.

Suspending the pension payments for 12 months would save $4.57 million.

The mayor has repeatedly asked council to generate $3.2 million by collecting more in income taxes from Toledoans employed elsewhere by cutting the city's income tax credit in half.

But council has twice voted down the tax credit reduction.

Increasing the monthly refuse fee from $7 to $10 for people who do not recycle and from $2 to $7 for those who do would boost city revenue by $1.6 million, the mayor said.

Council also has refused to vote on cutting the pension contributions and a separate request to slash city salaries by 10 percent. The mayor on March 31 asked council to declare "exigent circumstances" to make those cutbacks outside of ongoing negotiations.

Council instead ordered the administration back to the bargaining table.

Dan Wagner, TPPA president, said he suspected the mayor would again ask council to cut the pension contributions or execute the 10 percent pay cut.

"Because he wasn't successful in fact finding and he isn't going to like the outcome, he is asking council to do something that the fact finder wasn't willing to do," Mr. Wagner said. "Of course he is going to ask council to take something unilaterally, but if council does act in that matter, we will be in court to take action against it."

The mayor's original general budget proposal for 2009 assumed about $169.7 million would be collected from income taxes but a report by University of Toledo professors David Black and Oleg Smirnov estimated the figure between $147.8 million and $140.7 million.

The city is now budgeting for $145 million.

Mr. Wagner said he is suspicious of the lower figure and thinks the Finkbeiner administration is trying to make the city seem poorer than it will be this year.

But Mr. Sarantou said Toledo's income tax collections are down 12 percent over last year - supporting the lower predictions.

He said yearly audits of the city's finances since 1999 by Clifton Gunderson LLP have never listed a major finding against the city.

Contact Ignazio Messina at:

imessina@theblade.com

or 419-724-6171.



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