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Published: Saturday, 7/25/2009

Toledo's planned savings spent

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The city of Toledo was counting on slashing the $250,000 it pays to firefighters for their 2009 "clothing allowance" to help reduce the general fund deficit, but that money has already been paid out, the Finkbeiner administration said yesterday.

"That is an error and that must be corrected," said Theresa M. Gabriel, the mayor's assistant chief of staff. "The $250,000 was paid in January and February. It was an oversight."

Members of Toledo Firefighters Local 92 ratified a new contract with the city this week.

In addition to givebacks on pension benefits and a two-tier system for future recruits, the contract freezes wages through 2009 and 2010, but grants a 3.5 percent pay increase beginning Jan. 1, 2011, according to documents released yesterday.

The pay freeze and eventual increase are identical to salary terms in the city's recently approved contract with the Toledo Police Patrolman's Association.

The firefighters' new three-year contract was expected to save the city $1.82 million through 2009 and $3.74 million in 2010, as long as 40 new firefighters are hired that year to reduce overtime.

Ms. Gabriel said the $250,000 allowance for clothing would have to be subtracted from the anticipated 2009 savings - which also increases the city's predicted 2009 general fund deficit to $8.9 million.

Mayor Carty Finkbeiner yesterday said it would be impossible to balance the city's budget without fee and tax increases.

"There are still some who say to me, including an occasional councilman, 'Lay off more policemen,'•" Mr. Finkbeiner said. "No, I will not do that."

The mayor laid off 75 police officers on May 1 to help balance the budget. Twenty-nine of those officers were rehired July 1 with state and federal grant money.

Toledo City Council President Joe McNamara said he was not convinced the only way to balance the city's books is to approve the mayor's plans to cut the 100 percent tax credit given to Toledo residents who work and pay taxes in another locale and increasing the trash-collection fee.

"Do you have to? No, of course not," Mr. McNamara said of the mayor's comments. "The question is what is the level of service council wants to see the city deliver. My job as council president is to forge a consensus around responsible budget solutions that puts safety first."

In March, council voted against a proposal to generate $5.2 million through the end of 2009 by cutting 50 percent of the income tax credit for residents working in other cities.

Voters will decide in September whether to change how money collected through the city's 0.75 percent income tax is allocated - spending less for capital improvement projects and using that money for safety forces.

Council has set aside $3.9 million of 2009 capital improvement funding in anticipation of voters approving the so-called "Safety First Plan" so it could apply that money to reduce the 2009 deficit.

That would bring the shortfall down to $5 million.

"That is not a new tax and voters should know that it's to pay for safety forces," Mr. McNamara said.

The tentative firefighters contract will also require firefighters to pay 7 percent toward their own pension program for six months. The city would resume making the entire 10 percent employee share of the pension payment, which is on top of the employer's contribution of 19.5 percent. Any newly hired firefighters will pay the full 10 percent of the employee's pension share - which is also included in the TPPA contract.

Council votes on the contract Tuesday.

Contact Ignazio Messina at:

imessina@theblade.com

or 419-724-6171.



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