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Published: Monday, 3/8/2010

City threatens furlough of 300 workers

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA

BLADE STAFF WRITER

The Bell administration plans to begin sending up to 300 layoff notices to city employees next week in case it cannot balance a $48 million deficit through union concessions and other measures, a top city official said Monday.

Deputy Mayor Steve Herwat said the 30-day layoff notices would be sent to employees on Monday but that they could be rescinded if Toledo City Council enacts the budget-balancing plan.

“We have to take a look at what council is and is not willing to approve based on what they have talked about, and in the event council does not approve the provisions … we have to have an alternate plan,” Mr. Herwat said. “It will be at least 250, maybe 300.”

The number will include police officers and firefighters, he said.

“If we don't have the money to pay them, what are we going to do?” he added.

The list of city employees to get the notices will not be complete until Friday.

Last week, Mr. Bell said he was willing to lay off police officers and firefighters but that funding for Toledo's parks, pools, and recreation programs would be the first things slashed under his contingency plan to balance the city budget.

Council could vote next week on Mayor Bell's request to enact an 8 percent sports-and-event tax, increase the monthly fee for collecting trash to $15, and eliminate the income tax credit for Toledoans who work outside the city.

Mr. Bell is also asking council to force concessions from city unions without them agreeing to renegotiate terms of their contracts by approving a controversial measure called “exigent circumstances.”

Last year, council refused to take that step for then-mayor Carty Finkbeiner when the deficit was $27.7 million. A number of councilmen recently have spoken out against the idea.

Jen Sorgenfrei, Mr. Bell's spokesman, said Mr. Bell would rather have the concessions and the other items he sent to council to balance the budget.

“The layoffs would translate into service cuts to residents,” she said.

Unions representing po-lice, fire, and other city employees have refused to open their contracts as requested by Mr. Bell, who has asked them to consider paying the employee share of their state pensions and a greater share of health insurance costs.

Don Czerniak, president of Local 7 of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, said the mayor would “make the hard decision” if council won't enact the new revenues and cuts.

“I think the mayor is probably getting his ducks in order in case some of the solutions he has given to council, including the higher tax for [Toledoans] working outside the city, the trash fee, and the entertainment tax [are not approved],” he said. “He is going to have to slam the door and take the hard road and the only thing left is layoffs.”

City Council President Wilma Brown said she plans to call an executive session during council's agenda review meeting today to discuss the proposed union concessions.

Ms. Brown said Mr. Bell will not have any choice other than massive layoffs if council rejects part or all of his budget plan.

“From what I understand, it's deep cuts,” she said last night.

Ms. Brown said she has not polled councilmen on how they will vote on the different measures like the events tax, trash fee, the forced concessions, and eliminating the tax credit for Toledoans working outside the city.

“People will tell you one thing and do something else,” she said.

Councilman D. Michael Collins, for example, said he would not vote to eliminate the tax credit and is also critical of voting to approve the so-called “exigent circumstances” ordinances.

Councilman Michael Ashford said he would vote against the trash fee increase, eliminating the tax credit, and for the exigent circumstances.

“Now is not the time to vote for taxes and overburden people, especially in my district,” Mr. Ashford said.



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