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Published: Thursday, 3/18/2010

Police layoffs on hold for now; business owners, residents relieved

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER

North Toledo convenience store manager Abott Sama was among the city's relieved residents and business owners when he learned yesterday that layoffs of 125 police officers are on hold - at least for now.

"Absolutely, we are all worried about it," said Mr. Sama, who said Toledo needs police to protect businesses such as his Stop N Go store on Lagrange Street.

"When you call the cops, you want them to respond."

Mayor Mike Bell agreed yesterday to at least temporarily rescind the 30-day layoff notices sent Monday to 20 percent of the city's police force.

The decision came after a two-hour morning meeting between the mayor and union leaders. Both sides agreed to keep silent on their discussions.

Deputy Mayor of Operations Steve Herwat said the layoff notices were "on hold" until March 26, at which point the Bell administration would have to reissue 30-day notices should it still want to lay off the officers for budgetary reasons.

He said the two sides "had positive discussion."

The city, which is facing a $48 million deficit this year, would save $4.08 million by laying off 125 police officers, plus $925,000 by canceling plans to hire 30 police recruits in September.

The layoff notices went out Monday after an apparent impasse in discussions between the union and the city.

Mr. Bell wants midcontract concessions that would let Toledo 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.

Mr. Herwat said the mayor is open to other concessions.

"We need to get to a certain number, and we are flexible as to how we get to a number," he said.

Business operators such as Mr. Sama don't care about city/union disputes or city hall politics.

"The more cops, the more forces on the street, the more it helps to protect," he said while bagging bottles for a customer at the store.

Jimmy Gaines, director of the ONYX community development corporation in the central city, said the police layoffs were a big concern to people trying to attract new businesses and sell homes in Toledo.

"It is a relief the layoffs are on hold because of the importance of police covering, specifically, in the central city," Mr. Gaines said. "We as a CDC have a number of housing developments people rent from us and because of the increase in joblessness, people have been coming to our homes and breaking in when they are at work."

In addition to seeking employee concessions, Mr. Bell has asked Toledo City Council to approve 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's original budget-balancing plan sought to insulate city services and avoid layoffs.

Former Mayor Carty Finkbeiner laid off 75 Toledo police officers on May 1, 2009, but they were returned to service with state and federal grant money.

Other cities have proposed laying off police officers to balance huge deficits.

In East St. Louis, Mo., for example, police officers and firefighters faced massive layoffs but could instead take a more than 20 percent pay cut.

Flint, Mich., Mayor Dayne Walling has proposed cutting 57 police officers on March 25, which would leave one officer for every 900 residents.

Cutting 125 officers from Toledo's current sworn force of 590 would leave about one officer for every 679 residents. The current ratio is one per 535 residents.

Retirements this year would reduce the force - after 125 layoffs - to about 440 by Dec. 31, Police Chief Mike Navarre said. That estimate would reduce the ratio to one officer for every 718 Toledo residents.

Council President Wilma Brown has promised to vote for the mayor's proposals to avoid the layoffs.

If the concessions aren't agreed upon mutually, council could vote to force them on the unions by declaring so called "exigent circumstances."

Contact Ignazio Messina at:

imessina@theblade.com

or 419-724-6171.



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