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Published: Saturday, 3/6/2010

Toledo police class put on hold over deficit; balanced city budget comes first, Bell says

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Plans to hire new Toledo police officers in 2011 to keep the force's numbers up may fall apart if Mayor Mike Bell's plan to eliminate a $48 million deficit this year is unsuccessful.

The mayor Friday suspended recruitment of new police officers who would have started training next year.

"Given the uncertainty for approval of certain measures designed to balance the 2010 budget, I have ordered recruitment for the police class to be suspended effective immediately," Mr. Bell wrote to Toledo City Council.

"Upon approval of a balanced budget by March 31st, I will then reconsider resuming the recruitment process," the letter said.

The new police officers, for whom Mr. Bell canceled recruitment, would not have started training until 2011, said his spokesman, Jen Sorgenfrei.

"We are required to do 60 days of recruitment before we do a test, and the recruitment we were in the process of doing was for the test we would be giving in May," Ms. Sorgenfrei said. "The people selected from that test would be a part of the 2011 police class."

She said "it would be disingenuous" for the city to continue recruiting for that class until there is a balanced budget to accommodate the recruiting and testing costs incurred in 2010.

Also, a new class of about 33 police recruits slated to begin this year is in jeopardy should the mayor lay off current police officers to help balance the 2010 budget.

Dan Wagner, president of the Toledo Police Patrolman's Association, said the mayor's order signals to him that the city will not hire new police officers in 2010 or 2011.

"He is going to surrender $7 million in the COPS grant to save $3 million. It doesn't make any sense," Mr. Wagner said. He was referring to a $7.1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Justice's COPS Hiring Recovery Program that allowed the city to rehire officers who were laid off last year.

Without additions to the force, Toledo police could forfeit the grant. It requires the city to maintain a minimum level of 564 sworn officers for four years. There are currently 591 sworn officers.

Hiring new police officers in September would cost about $660,000 next year, according to a Bell administration estimate.

At a news conference yesterday, Mr. Wagner and Wayne Hartford, president of Toledo Firefighters Local 92, said they both were still willing to meet with Mr. Bell regarding his request for concessions to help balance the budget.

"The city administration has repeatedly suggested that Local 92 and the TPPA are unwilling to meet," Mr. Hartford said. "That is simply untrue."

Mr. Bell had proposed, in a Feb. 12 letter, midcontract concessions that include eliminating pension pickups for city employees and having them pay 20 percent of their health-care costs.

The Bell administration and the union presidents have offered conflicting reports about the other side's willingness and availability to meet regarding Mr. Bell's request for concessions.

Yesterday, the mayor sent an invitation to the leader of every city union to meet Monday or Thursday.

After Mr. Bell said the unions rejected his request for concessions on Feb. 25, he released a plan that includes an 8 percent sports-and-event tax, a hike of the monthly trash fee to $15, and eliminating the income tax credit for Toledoans who work outside the city. He also wants Toledo City Council to declare "exigent circumstances," a legal maneuver to force concessions from city unions.

Mr. Wagner thinks the mayor is not budgeting a high enough amount of money to collect from income taxes this year and, therefore, his proposed budget is too small.

"The deficit in 2010 budget is a projected deficit, and that projection is based on we are going to do worse in 2010 than we did in 2009, and I don't think anybody in this room or anybody in the city believes we are going to do worse in 2010 than we did in 2009," he said. "If anything, we are going to do the same."

Deputy Mayor of Operations Steve Herwat said on Feb. 26 that Mr. Bell did not plan to revise 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 previously estimated for 2009.

Mr. Bell's budget assumes Toledo will collect $136.1 million for 2010.

Mr. Herwat said the number is lower because the mayor is trying to be conservative and because 2009 had 27 biweekly payrolls while there will be 26 in 2010.

Even if the 2010 budget were adjusted to assume the $141.3 million from the payroll tax, the deficit would decrease from $48.2 million to $43 million - which would still be a record high shortfall for the city.

University of Toledo professors David Black and Oleg Smirnov disagree with Mr. Wagner's prediction of an upturn this year.

In early December, the duo that was hired by council to forecast income tax collections revised down its predictions and said Toledo would end 2009 with $140 million to $138.4 million - slightly below the actual figure.

They have told the city to expect a range of just $135.2 million to a low of $129 million for 2010 income tax collections - even lower than Mr. Bell's estimate.

Contact Ignazio Messina at:

imessina@theblade.com

or 419-724-6171.



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