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Published: Saturday, 5/2/2009

75 Toledo police officers laid off in city cash crunch

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Seventy-five Toledo police officers turned in their badges and guns Friday as the city's elected officials spent most of the day pointing fingers at each other in blame for the layoffs and the city's budget crisis.

Mayor Carty Finkbeiner - who lowered the number of police layoffs from 150 - said it would be up to Toledo City Council to act swiftly and prevent another 75 officers, or more, from being laid off.

At the same time, a number of councilmen said the mayor shouldn't count on approval of tax and fee increases to balance the city's budget until he resolves the now seven-month-old fruitless and pugnacious negotiations with the city's patrolmen's union.

Mr. Finkbeiner's strategy to balance a $21.3 million general fund deficit and keep the police layoffs at 75 includes several big assumptions.

But Councilman George Sarantou echoed the sentiments yesterday of others on council - stressing that the mayor has not done enough and probably is not going to get his way.

"We have at least 1,300 employees who get free health insurance and a top-of-the-line pension, and now the mayor expects us to tell Toledoans we are going to raise your taxes and charge you more for trash," Mr. Sarantou said.

"That's because the mayor can't get these 1,300 to do what every other sector in America has done, and that's give something back," he said.

Police Chief Mike Navarre said the fewer layoffs would allow him to keep street officers on duty "at or near what it was prior to these layoffs," which he could not have done if he had lost 150. The police department also will keep its gang task force and SWAT teams intact.

But frustrations over failed labor talks and Mr. Finkbeiner's insistence that council increase the city's trash fee and charge more income tax to Toledoans who work outside the city outshined the announcement that the police layoffs were cut in half.

"The mayor has failed at the bargaining table, refused to meet with City Council, and until recently even opposed my plan to create a $3.9 million reserve fund to stop police layoffs," Councilman Joe McNamara said. "At a time of crisis when Toledo needs a Winston Churchill, we are instead stuck with Carty Finkbeiner."

Mayor Finkbeiner said the 12 council members have had his budget-balancing plan for weeks and delayed action because they lacked political courage.

"An example is the fire service billing fee, which they approved at one meeting, then disapproved this week," Mr. Finkbeiner said. "That will cost us $500,000 toward a balanced budget."

He added: "The voters of Toledo elected our council to make tough decisions. No action by council only results in additional personnel reductions."

Dan Wagner, president of the Toledo Police Patrolman's Association, suspected the mayor would lower the number of layoffs.

"We knew the 150 was being used as a bargaining ploy. It was too large a number," Mr. Wagner said.

The union leader was reluctant to back the mayor's call for a trash fee increase and the tax credit issue.

"It's a double-edged sword," Mr. Wagner said. "On the one hand, they are saving officers on the street, but at the same time, they will be scaring businesses and residents out of Toledo."

Meanwhile, a Lucas County Common Pleas Court judge issued a temporary restraining order yesterday to stop the city from laying off 20 police command officers.

Chief Navarre said the patrolmen's ranks would absorb all of the 75 layoffs, at least until a May 14 arbitration over the dispute.

Judge Frederick McDonald sided with the Toledo Police Command Officers' Association, which sought an injunction to delay layoffs until the matter could go to arbitration.

In his ruling, Judge McDonald said the city lacked proof of "exigent" financial circumstances that would justify laying off more than five or six command officers - the "10 percent reduction" specifically allowed to the city in its contract with the command officers' association.

Councilman Tom Waniewski - who like others was pleased the number of laid-off officers was cut in half - said he wished the Finkbeiner administration already had reached an agreement with the TPPA.

"If we could just put down our pacifiers and let the two sides negotiate," Mr. Waniewski said.

He said voting on the trash fee and tax credit would be difficult for him.

"This problem didn't happen overnight," Mr. Waniewski said. "We have overspent, we have overcompensated, and we have overestimated, and now we are asking taxpayers to throw us a lifeline. If I had to vote today, of course I would not vote for any increase in a tax or fee."

Councilman Lindsay Webb also said she would not support the mayor's plan until she sees concessionary contracts inked with the police force and the other city unions.

Councilman Frank Szollosi called for the resignation of Mayor Finkbeiner's chief of staff, Robert Reinbolt, based on the failed series of talks over the past week, including a fact-finding meeting April 24 and a derailed tentative agreement reached Tuesday night.

"He failed the mayor, he failed the police department, he failed council and the community, and to re-establish trust and get negotiations back on track, I believe Bob Reinbolt should step down. The mayor needs to appoint someone who can sit down and start negotiations because negotiations are the only way we can get the concessions we need to reduce these layoffs," Mr. Szollosi said.

After an hour-long meeting with the mayor, Mr. Szollosi said the mayor refused to fire his chief of staff.

"Concessions are the only way out of this," he said. "If there's one thing the unions and the administration desperately agree on, it is that we should ask the taxpayers for a bailout."

Contact Ignazio Messina at:

imessina@theblade.com

or 419-724-6171.



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