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Published: 2/27/2010

City owes firefighters, police $2.8M; comp time, sick days cashed in

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Even with Toledo on the edge of financial ruin - with the threat of fiscal emergency on the horizon - the bureaucracy cannot be undone and it keeps cranking out the checks.

Among the payouts next week will be $1.5 million in checks to police officers cashing out a portion of their unused sick days, overtime not paid last year that had been deferred until now and will be paid as compensatory time, and bonus pay for working up to 10 holidays.

City Council President Wilma Brown said Toledo is obligated under the contracts to make the payments.

"We are contracted to do it, but you would think they would have a little more consideration about the plight that we are in," she said. "I am upset when people take advantage and I would say to them, at least wait."

Under a provision in the police and fire contracts approved last year, firefighters and officers with more than 25 years on the force are permitted to cash out sick time quarterly rather than when they retire.

Fire department employees are eligible to request conversion of sick leave and unused compensatory time in the March 26 payroll. John Kromenacker, administrative assistant for the city Fire and Rescue Department, projected the total payout at $1.3 million.

The lump-sum payments are benefits that many in the private sector do not enjoy - cash for unused sick leave, for example.

Shirley Green, Mayor Mike Bell's safety director, said the city doesn't have a choice about paying the officers for their unused leave, sick days, and compensatory time.

"The city is also bound by the contracts that were negotiated between the city and the unions," Ms. Green said.

Mayoral spokesman Jennifer Sorgenfrei said failure to live up to the contracts could land the city in court.

The city is also giving Police Chief Mike Navarre a check for 700 hours of sick time, which totals $31,129, and he is not covered by a collective bargaining agreement.

"Past practice is the chief has gotten the same contract benefits as the [Toledo Police Command Officers Association]," Ms. Sorgenfrei said. She said Mayor Bell told her he received similar payouts when he retired as fire chief in 2007, although he could not recall the exact categories or amounts.

The payouts to police include $229,594 for working up to 10 paid holidays. The police contract provides them with 15 holidays, and allows them to work 10 at straight time pay and to collect a bonus of 10 hours for each holiday worked, up to 100 hours.

"They get 10 bonus holidays throughout the year," Ms. Sorgenfrei said. "They can either cash them out or take them as days off. It's 100 hours worth of time."

Those vacation days are in addition to the extra 6.5 days the police union negotiated last year when it agreed to pay a portion of the employee's pension contribution. Ms. Green and Ms. Sorgenfrei said the officers were allowed to carry over the 6.5 vacation days from 2009 to 2010 if they did not use them. Not spelled out was whether they could eventually cash out those days if they remained unused.

Dan Wagner, president of the Toledo Police Patrolman's Association, said the officers are allowed to convert 33 percent of the sick time hours over 1,600 that have been accumulated.

"That is the deferred overtime for close to nine months and the city has to pay that overtime in March per our agreement," Mr. Wagner said.

He said it actually helps the city to pay the money quarterly rather than when officers retire.

"It helps eliminate this huge financial obligation when they retire," Mr. Wagner said. "It's overtime they had to bank and that's the deal we worked out. Those people in the last three years of service, where it counts toward their retirement, [they] were allowed to take their overtime."

Ms. Brown said she would not have voted for the police and fire contracts last year if she knew how large the 2010 deficit would be.

"They are putting a strain on the budget and now we are going to drown if we keep going the way we are going," she said. "With no one willing to concede, [receivership] is the way we are going."

Police officers filed for a combined 26,442 hours of unused sick time, which will cost $844,278.

They have also filed for 15,405 compensatory hours totaling $444,591. The Bell administration is struggling to balance a $48.2 million general fund deficit.

Mayor Bell has promised Toledo City Council it would have a balanced proposed 2010 budget by Monday evening. It must be approved by council by March 31.

Deputy Mayor of Operations Steve Herwat said he had not revised his prediction for 2010 income tax collections despite a slightly better-than-expected collection for 2009.

The city collected $141.3 million from the 2.25 percent payroll tax in 2009, which is $2.6 million greater than the $138.7 million the Bell administration had previously estimated for 2009.

"Based on the income tax receipts for last year, we are not going to be revising our $136.1 million estimate for 2010," Mr. Herwat said. "We have not increased that number based on our experience in 2009, the fact that 2009 has 27 payrolls and there will be 26 in 2010, and also, we are trying to be conservative."

Staff writer Tom Troy contributed to this report.

Contact Ignazio Messina at:

imessina@theblade.com

or 419-724-6171.



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