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Published: Friday, 5/15/2009

48 city posts expected to be axed today

BY TOM TROY
BLADE POLITICS WRITER
Laid-off Toledo police officers who sought a meeting with Mayor Carty Finkbeiner talk to Chief Mike Navarre instead yesterday. Laid-off Toledo police officers who sought a meeting with Mayor Carty Finkbeiner talk to Chief Mike Navarre instead yesterday.
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While top officials in Mayor Carty Finkbeiner's office worked to finalize the list of civilian city employees who will lose their jobs in a layoff set for today, the police union and the city's budget commissioner disagreed over city revenue projections.

A total of 142 employees who work in general fund departments, other than police, fire, and refuse collection, received a layoff notice one month ago and effective at the end of today. But the number whose jobs are actually eliminated could be closer to 48.

City Budget Commissioner John Bibish said the general fund layoffs will save the city about $2 million this year - part of the $27.7 million in savings the city has been trying to make since revenue projections plunged in February.

The layoffs occur against the backdrop of tense labor negotiations with the Toledo Police Patrolman's Association, and the layoffs of 75 police officers May 1.

Union President Dan Wagner and Mr. Bibish gave differing interpretations of the city's revenue projections for 2009 after a meeting with the city's contracted revenue forecaster, University of Toledo economics professor Oleg Smirnov, on Wednesday.

The layoffs were ordered after the administration lowered its 2009 income tax estimate from $169.7 million to $145 million in February based on Mr. Smirnov's and fellow professor David Black's analysis of the dramatic downturn in the local economy.

Mr. Wagner said Mr. Smirnov's testimony verified their suspicion that he'd low-balled revenue estimates for 2009, and claimed Mr. Smirnov testified that his forecast may have been off by $10 million

to $20 million.

"It was very clear that the city's projections are wrong," Mr. Wagner said. "Based on what our economic experts found and based on what we discovered yesterday, these layoffs should not have taken place."

Mr. Bibish said he did not know where Mr. Wagner came up with a variance of $20 million. He said that Mr. Smirnov's projection had a range of about $7 million.

"Dr. Smirnov stands behind his analysis. The results were statistically significant," Mr. Bibish said. "Dr. Smirnov never said that there was anything unsound about the model that he used."

Mayor Finkbeiner is seeking significant concessions from the 482-member patrolman's union. The city and the union are at an impasse in their negotiations and are set to meet with a fact-finder on May 28.

Also yesterday, a dozen laid-off police officers showed up outside the mayor's office in Government Center to speak with the mayor, but found that he was out for the morning. They spoke instead for about an hour with Chief Mike Navarre.

Laid-off Patrolman Jessica Meyer, a seven-year veteran of the department and the mother of one child, said they wanted to meet the mayor and ask him about the varying revenue forecast.

"We just want to get our jobs back," Ms. Meyer said. She said her family depended on her salary because her husband is unemployed.

Chief Navarre said the mayor was in a retreat and had not known the officers were coming.

"I certainly have sympathy with the officers and their families," Chief Navarre said. "I'm just trying to give them a glimmer of hope because they're hearing rumors and getting a lot of false information. I was able to correct some of that and let them know exactly what's going on."

The chief said he's confident the officers will eventually be called back, but he did not know when.

Also yesterday, the city received its second negative bond rating in two days. Standard & Poor's lowered the city's rating from A+ to A on its general obligation bonds.

The lowered ratings were released one day after Moody's Investors Services marked down Toledo's ability to pay off its general obligation debt from A3 to Baa1. Both agencies noted the impact on tax revenues from layoffs at Chrysler and GM plants in Toledo, among the city's top 10 taxpayers.

Councilman George Sarantou, chairman of the council finance committee, said the sobering outlook corresponds with the city's warnings about plunging tax revenues.

Mr. Wagner said the ratings agencies based their forecasts on what they were told by city officials. He said the emphasis undervalued the taxes still being paid by large employers in Toledo, such as Promedica Health System and the University of Toledo.

Contact Tom Troy at:

tomtroy@theblade.com

or 419-724-6058.



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