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Published: Wednesday, 4/29/2009

Toledo City Council says no to billing for fire calls

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Council instead told the Finkbeiner administration and the police and firefighters unions to get back to the table and reach an agreement on new contracts to address the city's 2009 deficit.

Councilman Frank Szollosi - gesturing last night to one of the mayor's top staffers and the president of the Toledo Police Patrolman's Association - demanded to know why they were not at that moment in contract talks to help avert a planned layoff Friday of 150 officers.

"It's unacceptable," Mr. Szollosi said.

Robert Reinbolt, the mayor's chief of staff, said representatives from the mayor's staff and Toledo Police Patrolman's Association met after council's meeting last night for informal talks, but he refused to reveal who attended or the location of the meeting.

On Monday, Mr. Finkbeiner demanded council approve his plan to increase the city's monthly trash fee, collect more income taxes from Toledoans who work outside the city, and also to suspend for 12 months contributions to the city employees' share into their state retirement pension system.

Instead, council members referred the trash fee and tax credit issues to council's finance committee and did not address the pension cutback by leaving it in committee, where it has been.

Mr. Reinbolt said more layoffs beyond the 150 officers would be necessary without that additional revenue.

"The longer council waits to implement those, the less opportunity we have to balance the budget without further layoffs," he said.

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. Mr. Reinbolt is expecting the city's revenue from the trash fee to fall after Friday, when the fee is to change to $8.50 a month for those who don't recycle and just $1 for those who do.

The city could also collect an extra $3.2 million in income taxes from Toledoans employed elsewhere by cutting the city's income tax credit by 50 percent. That measure twice has been rejected by council.

Councilman George Sarantou said he would not even consider collecting more from taxpayers until the city and the unions reach consensus.

Dan Wagner, TPPA president, said he was certain the 150 police officers would be laid off by Friday.

"I think [council] is waiting to see what's going to happen with us in negotiations, and it's a prudent move to see if anything is going to happen," Mr. Wagner said.

Council also voted 6-4 for Mayor Finkbeiner's request to implement a fire service fee, which would generate $500,000 through the end of 2009 by billing homeowner insurance for responding to a structure fire. But seven votes are needed for approval of the issue, so it was defeated.

Voting against were Councilmen Tom Waniewski, Lindsay Webb, Philip Copeland, and D. Michael Collins. Councilman Betty Shultz was not present, and Councilman Michael Ashford left before the vote was taken.

Mr. Reinbolt said he was perplexed by the rejection since a majority of council on April 8 voted in favor of the fire service fee when it agreed to allocate that $500,000 toward the city's deficit.

Mr. Copeland said there were too many unanswered questions about the fee, especially if the city would attempt to bill homeowners who don't have fire insurance.

Fire Chief Mike Wolever last week told council that the city would only "soft bill" the fee and would not bill homeowners directly.

Without that money, the city's 2009 deficit stands at $21.3 million.

Contact Ignazio Messina at:

imessina@theblade.com

or 419-724-6171.



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