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Published: Monday, 3/15/2010

Toledo leaders send 125 layoff notices to police officers

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The Bell administration sent layoff notices Monday to 125 of Toledo's police officers, in addition to 12 civilian employees.

The layoffs are part of Mayor Mike Bell's contingency plan to balance the city's $48 million general fund deficit.

Deputy Mayor of Operations Steve Herwat said the layoffs, which will take effect in 30 days, are needed in case Toledo City Council rejects Mr. Bell's proposal to enact an 8 percent sports-and-event tax, increasing the monthly fee for collecting trash to $15, and eliminating 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 do that for then-mayor Carty Finkbeiner when the deficit was $27.7 million. A number of councilmen recently have spoken out against the idea.

Mr. Bell also plans to lay off 12 civilian city employees and eliminate 20.5 vacant positions.

Dan Wagner, president of the Toledo Police Patrolman's Association, was informed Friday that Mr. Bell was serious about the layoff notices.

"It could be posturing and it could be a probable measure they are willing to take," Mr. Wagner said. "Given how violent Toledo has been in the past couple of weeks, I don't think it's wise, but he is going to do what he thinks he has to do to balance the budget."

Mr. Wagner, along with Wayne Hartford, president of Toledo Firefighters Local 92, have said they would negotiate with Mr. Bell but they are not willing to accept the concessions as proposed.

Mr. Bell wants $6.27 million from ceasing payments into the employee pension program and $2.6 million from having employees paying 20 percent of their health care 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.

Mr. Finkbeiner laid off 75 police officers on May 1, 2009, when the city's general fund deficit for that year was estimated at $21.3 million.

Those officers were later hired back with state and federal grant money.

By accepting that money. Mr. Finkbeiner promised Toledo would keep its police force at 564 sworn officers for four years.

If the 125 officers are laid off, Toledo could forfeit the $7.1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Justice's COPS Hiring Recovery Program that allowed the city to rehire officers that Mr. Finkbeiner laid off.

Shirley Green, Mayor Bell's safety director, said the city would have to repay an amount equal to the salary and benefits of each Toledo officer below the required 564.

That averages approximately $50,000 per officer, she said.

There are currently 590 sworn officers.

Mr. Finkbeiner last year originally said he would lay off 150 police officers but at the last moment, he cut the number by half.

The layoff was issued in the middle of labor negotiations with the city safety forces that was not concluded until July, when new three-year contracts were signed.

In aftermath of that layoff, the city's elected officials spent days pointing fingers at each other in blame.

Mr. Finkbeiner said Toledo City Council could have prevented the reduction to the police force by increasing the monthly trash fee and cutting the tax credit in half.

At the same time, a number of councilmen said Mr. Finkbeiner shouldn't have counted on approval of tax and fee increases to balance the city's budget until he resolved tense negotiations with the city's patrolmen's union.

Earlier in the year, Mr. Finkbeiner failed in an attempt to cut the number of firefighters required by their contract to be on duty at any one given time.

Less than 24 hours after he announced in February, 2009, a plan to reduce the contract-mandated 103 firefighters per day to 99, a Lucas County Common Pleas Court judge granted a temporary restraining order to stop the change.

The mayor wanted to save $2.5 million last year by reducing overtime in the fire department, reassigning more firefighters to the line, and taking a fire truck out of service.

Toledo Firefighters Local 92 filed a complaint claiming that a reduction in the daily number of firefighters working not only would violate the union's contract but also would create a safety issue for both the firefighters and the residents of Toledo.

The minimum staffing for firefighters was established in 1988 and through numerous contracts, the city and union have agreed to keep it at 103.

In 2008, the fire department received more than 50,000 calls for service.

That number is up from the 40,000 calls received in 1988 when the minimum manning number was created.



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