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Toledo mayor balks at request to hire 11 firefighters

Mayor Carty Finkbeiner said yesterday he will not heed the advice from Toledo City Council, which urged him to hire 11 new firefighters to cut $1 million in expected overtime costs next year.

Council on Tuesday voted 11-0 to urge Mr. Finkbeiner to appoint a class of 11 firefighters, all of whom have training or experience.

"That hiring would be in direct violation of [U.S. District Court] Judge [Don] Young's decision all those years ago," the mayor said.

A court order the city signed June 26, 1992, with Judge Young and Advocates for Basic Legal Equality set regulations for the city to follow in fire department hiring to make sure the city had a racially diverse department.

"We feel pretty strongly that was a powerful verdict and we've respected it all these years," Mr. Finkbeiner said.

Council President Joe McNamara said hiring the firefighters would save the city $1 million in overtime costs next year. "I think the mayor is concerned about negative political implications because the city has laid off 75 police officers even though not hiring firefighters further strains the budget," Mr. McNamara said.

The city is predicting an almost $10 million shortfall for 2009. The deficit was $12.5 million before council Tuesday approved a new three-year contract with the union representing the city's police patrolmen.

Councilman D. Michael Collins said he disagreed with the mayor's interpretation of what Judge

Young said.

"That was a consent decree, and clearly the city can show 100 percent compliance the past 25 years," Mr. Collins said. "The consent decree requires the process to establish a list that is compliant as long as there is a demonstration there is diversity that reflects the city's."

He said fire department overtime costs could exceed

$4 million in 2009 - more than $1 million over what was budgeted for the year.

Under its contract with the firefighters' union, the city must maintain a minimum of 103 firefighters on duty. If the number falls below 103 because of vacations or sick days, the department must call in other personnel to work overtime.

The fire department cost the city $491,038 in overtime from Jan. 1 through Feb. 28, compared with $254,737 during the same time in 2008.

Mr. McNamara, who was elected council president Tuesday, said the city needs the 11 new firefighters plus a new class of 40 next year to cuts overtime costs.

The Finkbeiner administration is negotiating a new contract with the Toledo Police Command Officers Association and Local 92 Firefighters. The mayor declined to say Tuesday if he would ask for a reduction of the manning requirement outlined in the current firefighters' contract.

Contact Ignazio Messina at:

imessina@theblade.com

or 419-724-6171.

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