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Published: Monday, 5/4/2009

City spent $2.5M on severance pay in '09

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The city of Toledo so far this year has paid out nearly $2.5 million in severance checks - mostly for unused sick days city workers collect upon leaving their jobs.

Of that money, $957,661 went to 21 police officers and $403,246 went to just nine fire fighters.

Police Lt. John Preston, who retired in January, left the force with the highest severance handed out to police - $116,358, which included $94,647 of cashed-out sick time and $21,594 of unused vacation time.

But the largest severance paid to a city employee this year - $138,461 - went to John Madigan, a former city law director and general counsel for the city when he retired in March. He was paid $89,892 for his unused sick time and $48,569 for unused vacation time.

In the midst of troubled contract talks with the police and fire unions, the obligation to pay out such high severances is one of the things the city is seeking to reduce.

"If a city employee retires he is entitled to holiday, compensatory time, [and] could be paid for part of sick time if they have over 21 years," said Robert Reinbolt, Mayor Carty Finkbeiner's chief of staff. "In some cases, it can be a significant dollar figure."

The city has predicted a $20.8 million shortfall for 2009 and the Finkbeiner administration wants to reduce the deficit with salary, benefit, and pension cuts.

The alternative is the layoff of more police officers and dozens of other city employees on May 15. Seventy-five officers turned in their badges and guns Friday.

Mr. Reinbolt said concessions from the police patrolmen, police command officers, and firefighters, who are working with expired contracts, could help avert some of the layoffs.

"It's all in our contracts right now," Mr. Reinbolt said of the severance pay.

"Everything is on the table now, but until you can get it negotiated out, you have to live with it."

Mr. Finkbeiner has threatened more layoffs since council did not vote Tuesday to raise the city's monthly trash fee, collect more income taxes from Toledoans who work outside the city, and suspend contributions to the city employees' share into their state retirement pension system - a contractual obligation.

Council also rejected a proposal to generate $500,000 by billing homeowner insurance policies for responding to a structure fire - which if not eventually approved would increase the deficit to about $21.3 million.

James Martin, Jr., president of Firefighters Local 92, said the severance payments, along with other benefits, have been negotiated over "many years" in lieu of pay raises and making adjustments to working conditions.

"You are not comparing apples to apples when you compare other people's contracts unless you know everything they have," he said.

"I have never been in negotiations where you sat down with someone and they said, 'Hey, I don't think you deserve this, but I am going to give it to you anyway.'•"

Mr. Martin said the city's attention has been focused on the patrolmen's union and the police command union and he is waiting to see what happens with those talks.

The city and the police patrol officers' union failed to reach an agreement April 24 when both sides ended an all-day meeting with a fact finder without a new contract.

Neither the city nor the Toledo Police Patrolman's Association would reveal what derailed the process.

Councilman George Sarantou said council has considered different ways to pay the severance pay, including a plan offered this year by Councilman D. Michael Collins to pay it out over three years.

"You can't alleviate it totally because it is something the employee is entitled to per the contracts," Mr. Sarantou said.

Contact Ignazio Messina at:

imessina@theblade.com

or 419-724-6171.



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