Toledo Mayor Mike Bell revealed last night at a citizens' forum his "backup plan" for closing the city's $48 million budget hole, should City Council fail to get onboard his current proposal:
He'll start laying off everybody.
"Depending on how large [the deficit] gets, the only thing left for us to do, after this, are major cuts in our staffing," Mr. Bell told an audience of more than 60 in the cafeteria at Waite High School. "And whatever number we don't have is how far we'll cut."
The mayor added: "And everybody - everybody - is inclusive in those cuts."
Mayor Bell made the remarks near the start of what was the first of six planned public forums on his budget proposal, which contains a number of controversial ways to cut costs or generate revenue, including an 8 percent sports-and-event tax, a hike of the monthly trash fee to $15, forced concessions from city unions, and a plan to eliminate the income tax credit for Toledoans who work outside the city.
In recent days, several councilmen and union leaders have expressed opposition to some of the revenue proposals in the mayor's plan.
Yet a city budget must be approved by March 31, and Mr. Bell yesterday initially alluded but didn't describe his "backup plan" for putting one in place. He finally shared details of it when asked directly by a citizen in the audience.
"Nobody has heard it," the mayor had said. "There is a backup plan, but it's not as good as what we have in front of you. It's a little bit more painful in the way our city moves forward."
But for several people at last night's meeting, the revenue generators in the current proposal looked plenty painful.
For Kathy Wiegand, 57, who lives on Nevada Street in East Toledo but works at an automotive supplier in Oregon, the most egregious of the bunch was the mayor's idea to eliminate the income tax credit that shields Toledoans who work outside the city from paying twice.
Toledoans working in other places that withhold income taxes receive a 100 percent credit for taxes paid to those respective cities. That means they pay Toledo the difference, if any. But without that credit, those residents would pay Toledo's 2.25 percent tax in addition to the taxes withheld by the communities where they work.
Ending the tax credit would affect about 19,200 Toledoans.
"Do you want to know why I'm frustrated? Taxes, taxes, and more taxes is why I'm frustrated," Miss Wiegand said. "I'm ready to put my house up for sale and move the heck out."
The budget meeting's format was different from that of years past. Participants yesterday were divided into seven groups and asked to list their top ideas, complaints, or issues related to the budget. Members of each group then shared those ideas aloud with the councilmen and city administration officials in the room.
The ideas are to be compiled and issued in a formal report to city leaders once the budget meeting series concludes.
John Truby, 70, a retired shipping and receiving clerk who lives on 4th Street, said he was enraged that Mr. Bell would seek tax and fee hikes after he granted double-digit-percentage-point raises to some of his own top staff.
The mayor's administration has defended those raises, saying the employees were entitled to them from promotions and because they are performing work once handled by several people.
"They give them those big raises right after the new mayor comes in … and the next week, they're talking about raising taxes," said Mr. Truby, who suggested firing the handful of people who got the big raises and hiring new staffers at half the salary levels.
Mayor Bell, who had two prior engagements, left shortly after his opening remarks. Before departing, Mr. Bell suggested some of his budget-balancing measures would only be temporary.
"A large portion of what we're talking about now is actually just a bridge for about 18 months or, say, maybe 24, because the city is going to turn itself around," Mr. Bell said, adding that he sees "some large job potential" for Toledo soon.
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