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Published: Wednesday, 3/17/2010

Bell's plea to Toledo council fails to gain budget vote

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Mayor Mike Bell pleaded with Toledo City Council last night to address the city's budget crisis and move swiftly on his proposals to balance a $48 million general fund deficit.

The mayor made the request in council chambers during its regular meeting, with more than 70 firefighters watching.

The request came promptly after a 20-minute debate on a land-banking deal for 19 parcels totaling less than $3,000.

"I would hope … that we can at least be able to move at some point in time during this session on issues related to the refuse and the issues related to the reduced tax credit," Mr. Bell said. "I think that it is extremely important to start moving forward because we have this $48 million deficit that isn't shrinking."

Their answer: Wait two more weeks.

City Council did not vote last night on Mr. Bell's proposal to declare "exigent circumstances" to force concessions from city unions without their agreeing to renegotiate terms of their contracts; add an 8 percent sports-and-event tax, increase to $15 the monthly fee for collecting trash, and eliminate the income tax credit for Toledoans who work outside the city.

All of those ordinances were given a first reading, which means council can vote on them during its meeting on March 30.

The city must have a balanced budget before the conclusion of the following day.

Council President Wilma Brown said she would vote to approve all the measures.

"We can no longer pick and choose. The clock is ticking," she said. "The news media has stated that City Council's vocabulary appears limited to the word no. I'm hoping that a united council - those who are pursuing other offices and those of us who must stay and fight the good fight of what we were elected to do - will place the fate of this wonderful city in front of all other ambitions."

Council did vote 12-0 last night to increase their own monthly health-care premiums to reflect what the mayor is asking from city employees.

Firefighter Michael Roemmele, who was among those at the meeting, said it would be "immoral for council to go back on a written contract" by attempting to alter it without union approval.

He also said morale was low in the fire department.

"City council and the mayor are saying, 'We don't think enough of you' or 'We don't think enough of you to honor your written contracts,'•" he said.

Mayor Bell on Monday sent 30-day layoff notices to 125 police officers, which he said could be executed if council rejects his plan to balance the budget with union concessions, the trash-fee increase, and eliminating the tax credit for Toledoans working outside the city.

There are 590 sworn police officers.

Layoff notices on the same day to 125 firefighters were recalled after a last-minute negotiation that Mr. Bell called "positive" but refused to discuss.

Meanwhile yesterday, the layoff notices of seven city employees in two different unions were put on hold, a top official in the Bell administration said.

"The layoffs for [AFSCME] Local 7 and [AFSCME] Local 2058 are now on hold until at least March 23rd," Deputy Mayor of Operations Steve Herwat said in an e-mail. "The bumping session for March 22nd is hereby canceled."

Mr. Bell also eliminated 20.5 vacant city jobs.

Alan Cox, president of AFSCME Local 2058, said the layoffs were put on hold yesterday because the two unions are talking productively with the mayor.

"It's a good-faith effort on his part to say as long as we are talking, we can hold off on that," Mr. Cox said.

Mr. Bell wants to save $6.27 million by ceasing payments into the employee pension program and $2.6 million by having employees pay 20 percent of their medical-coverage costs.

Contact Ignazio Messina at:

imessina@theblade.com

or 419-724-6171.



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