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Toledo's police and fire unions for the past year have rejected calls for significant wage and benefit concessions, including agreeing to pay the employee share of their state pensions, to help the city deal with a deepening financial crisis.
Union officials repeatedly said their members sacrificed enough during negotiations in mid-2009 under then-Mayor Carty Finkbeiner, but a Blade investigation shows dozens of city safety workers are paid six-figure salaries when overtime and bonus payments are included.
Just last week, Toledo police officers rejected what one councilman called "minor" concessions, while Toledo firefighters agreed that for nine months they would pay 3 percentage points of the 10 percent employees are expected to pay into their state pensions. Firefighters also voted to defer 2009 overtime pay until March, 2011.
The Blade review of police and firefighter salaries shows one-third of all uniformed police officers and more than half of all firefighters took home more than $70,000 in total compensation last year.
|This searchable database contains the salaries of more than 1,270 employees of the Toledo Fire and Police Departments. Search by name, department, position and salary range. Click an employee's name and a page will show regular pay, bonus pay (which includes retirement payouts, hazard pay, etc.), overtime and total compensation.|
|Data, including salary, are for the 2009 calendar year. Source: City of Toledo|
Fifty-one of the city's top-paid first-responders in both departments took home in excess of $100,000 last year including bonuses, with 10 making more than $125,000. Mayor Mike Bell makes $122,400 a year.
The pay for police and fire personnel includes overtime and numerous bonuses for most within the top pay category, but it does not include the multimillion-dollar cost to taxpayers each year to cover the pensions of police and fire officers.
By comparison, of the 17 top city commissioners who worked last year under then-Mayor Carty Finkbeiner, only two made more than $70,000. This year, the majority of administrators for Mayor Mike Bell are paid about $80,000, with his three top cabinet administrators making $90,000 annually.
"The numbers are what the numbers are," said Steve Herwat, Mr. Bell's deputy mayor of operations.
"When the next round of contract negotiations with police and fire begin in 2011, we will be at the table and we are going to pursue all sorts of structural changes to those contracts," Mr. Herwat said Friday, just one day after Toledo Firefighters Local 92 approved a set of temporary concessions and two days after the police patrolman's union said no to nearly the same deal.
"Everything is going to be on the table," Mr. Herwat said.
City officials have been saying that for years but have been unable to scale back lucrative city labor contracts because of the pull city employee unions have with members of City Council, who in a city dominated by the Democratic Party like to campaign for re-election with the endorsement of unions.
Even when city negotiators have been successful keeping down annual pay raises, city unions, especially police and fire unions, have persuaded city officials to pay an increasing portion of the employee share of state pensions. The city is now paying both the workers' 10 percent share and the city's 19.5 percent share of state pensions.
Because pension payments are based on regular and overtime pay — and as the city has pared its work force through attrition — the remaining workers are making more overtime each year, further escalating the cost of pension payments the city must absorb.
Many officials say the trend is not sustainable in a city with falling population and falling tax revenue, but Mr. Finkbeiner and Mr. Bell, as well successive City Councils, have not been able or willing to take on city unions.
Dan Wagner, president of the Toledo Police Patrolman's Association, has been a staunch advocate for police officers, telling city officials in the past that officers are underpaid.
"Let's remember, if they are making that kind of pay, some of these guys are working 60 to 70 hours a week," Mr. Wagner said. "No one can blame an officer for being paid appropriately for putting in those types of hours."
Excluding police officers who retired last year, 16 made more than $100,000 in 2009. Police Chief Mike Navarre was the highest-paid officer in the department — making a total of $127,231 when the payments he received for cashing in unused vacation and holiday pay were included as well as longevity pay and his uniform allowance.
The next highest paid officer was Sgt. Roque Brown, who took home $33,410 in overtime on top of $77,239 in regular pay for a total of $110,650.
Chief Navarre said the bulk of Sergeant Brown's overtime last year was paid for by the federal government because he was assigned to a special drug task force.
"There are 12 officers involved in the high-intensity drug trafficking area task force, and we have others that include a U.S. marshal task force, fugitive task force, and all of those have a lot of federal money for overtime," Chief Navarre said.
Several other officers got nearly the same amount of overtime last year because they were involved with Sergeant Brown monitoring a wiretap in a drug case.
"When we do wire taps, we are required by law to monitor them 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and it is very labor-intensive, and the only way we would be able to do that is because the feds are paying for it," Chief Navarre said.
Still, the chief acknowledged that officers can boost their take-home pay in a number of ways funded by Toledo taxpayers.
One hundred ninety-nine sworn police officers out of the 599 ended 2009 with more than $70,000 in base pay, bonuses, and overtime.
That includes the 17 officers who retired and cashed out "severance" bonuses and one officer who died and the money was paid to family or next of kin.
Some of the other 181 police officers increased their take-home pay over $70,000 with overtime and bonus pay, but of those, 129 officers took home that much with just their regular base pay.
"I can start listing things, starting with the base wage and then add shift differentials for midnight and afternoons, and then stipends that come to $1,500 a year, and that includes a gun and clothing allowance," Chief Navarre said.
"Depending on how long they have been on, they can make more money, and they max out at 20 years," the chief said.
The highest-compensated city employee in 2009 was Police Lt. Deborah Toth, whose $74,526 regular pay was boosted to a record $195,916 by the $121,390 severance payment she received for unused sick-time and unused vacation time and other bonuses she was due according to the terms of the police command officers' labor agreement with the city.
Mr. Wagner, who is paid a base pay of $61,164 plus the standard $500 bonus all patrolmen get, maintains that officers are generally not compensated enough for the work they do.
"Compared to other cities our size within Ohio, we are last with only Cleveland behind us in total compensation," Mr. Wagner said.
He pointed out that police officers have to spend many hours on the job to make the big bucks.
Councilman George Sarantou said reviews by the city's police and fire chiefs placed Toledo's first responders in the middle range of pay compared to other large city emergency workers in Ohio.
"When you look at the other cities in Ohio, I believe the police and fire are kind of in the middle, which is acceptable, but clearly these are very difficult economic times and council is asking them to make concession because we don't have the money to pay them," Mr. Sarantou said. "We also have to recognize that the reason they have a fair amount of overtime is because the number of police and firefighters per capita in Toledo is the lowest number of big cities in Ohio."
The average Toledo police officer below the rank of sergeant, and not including retirees, made $62,049 last year.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Office of Occupational Statistics and Employment Projections estimated police and sheriff's patrol officers had median annual pay of $51,410 in May, 2008, the most recent data available.
The middle 50 percent made between $38,850 and $64,940. The lowest 10 percent made less than $30,070, and the highest 10 percent made more than $79,680. Median annual wages were $46,620 in federal government, $57,270 in state government, $51,020 in local government, and $43,350 in educational services.
The average pay last year for Toledo police sergeants was $80,358, and the average pay for police lieutenants was $91,257.
Toledo's fire command officers are among the highest paid employees in the city.
Of the 13 fire battalion chiefs and two deputy fire chiefs working last year who did not retire, all but one made more than $100,000.
Battalion Chief Gary Martin was paid $133,586, which includes $9,315 in bonuses and $24,205 in overtime.
The two fire department deputy chiefs, Phillip Cervantes and Brian Byrd, followed with total 2009 take-home pay of $126,919 and $119,632, respectively.
Six fire command officers retired last year. Of them, former Battalion Chief Thomas Tiggs cashed out $89,967 in "bonuses" alone. That money includes the unused sick time police officers and firefighters can bank over a career.
Toledo police officers and firefighters also get 15 sick days a year. If an officer or firefighter retires with up to 1,599 unused sick time hours, he or she gets half of it paid out in cash. Any time accumulated above the 1,600-hour mark is paid out in full.
Officer Earl Barry, for example, retired last year and collected an $80,663 check for his severance.
"If Earl Barry had that kind of money coming, it's because he didn't use any sick time his whole career, which he didn't," said Councilman D. Michael Collins, a retired police officer and former TPPA president.
Mr. Wagner said the sick time policy saves the city money.
"Unfortunately, some people look at this as a great perk," he said. "Sick-time payout saves the city because it keeps officers from calling in sick, and they don't have to pay another officer to come in on overtime."
Of the 468 firefighters, firefight er/paramedics, fire lieutenants, and fire captains at the end of last year, 260 — which is 57 percent — made more than $70,000. That includes five retirees who cashed out severances.
The retirement payout record among firefighters last year was $90,078, which went to Capt. Gerald Debien when he retired.
The average 2009 total pay for Toledo firefighters — not including those who retired or any command officers — was $69,991.
The average 2009 pay for fire lieutenants, excluding retirees, was $81,316, and the average 2009 pay for fire captains, excluding retirees, was $93,891.
An ongoing strain
Those salaries, health insurance costs, and retirement benefits have strained the city budget for years and frustrated Toledo's leaders who are trying to balance a remaining $25 million general fund deficit. That figure is down from $48 million after a number of cutbacks and projected increased 2010 revenue.
"The bottom line is the city has contracts it cannot afford and if adjustments are not made we will be facing massive layoffs," said Councilman Joe McNamara. "There are a lot of Toledoans out of work right now and if we did a test for a new fire class or police class, thousands of people would seek those jobs."
Jim Pasco, executive director of the National Fraternal Order of Police, said Toledo is like many cities seeking to balance massive budget deficits by rolling back police pay and benefits.
"Believe it or not, some cities would try and use this financial crisis as an opportunity for abrogating agreements," Mr. Pasco said. "[Police] are absolutely not paid enough because they work for cities and states that historically have not been well run and if they were businesses, they would be out of business."
Threat of layoffs
Toledo police are again facing layoffs after rejecting Mr. Bell's request for temporary concessions last week.
The mayor on Friday said he would decide by tomorrow if he would reissue layoff notices to 125 police officers.
Part of the concessions — having police officers pay 3 percentage points of the "employee" share of their pension plan for nine months — would have cost an additional $65 every two weeks for the average police officer and would have saved the city about $500,000.
Last year, Mr. Finkbeiner was successful in convincing police and fire unions that new hires in both departments should pay that 10 percent themselves.
Mr. Wagner said criticisms of the contract arrangement are unfounded.
"People don't take into consideration that the city doesn't pay Social Security and we don't have Social Security when we retire," he said. "Those pension pickups were negotiated in lieu of wage increases."
Firefighters have been assured the concessions they agreed to — which include the 3 percent pension payment for nine months — will keep them on the job through Dec. 31.
A firefighters' view
Fire Chief Mike Wolever, who at $145,897 was the highest-paid city employee last year who didn't receive a retirement payout, said the easiest way for a firefighter to increase yearly salary is overtime. The department had $3.57 million in overtime last year.
Chief Wolever boosted his $93,186 base pay by more than $50,000 last year by cashing in unused vacation and holiday pay and taking advantage of other bonuses and provisions bargained by city unions that traditionally have been extended to top city officials even though they are not part of the bargaining units.
"They also get a clothing allowance and they get their safety stipend," Chief Wolever said. "They can retire after reaching 48 years old and 25 years on the job, and if they do that, their pension is 60 percent of the highest three years."
Staying on the job longer will increase a firefighter pension, he said.
Additionally, firefighters work 24 hours on and then get 48 hours off. They also get what is called a "Kelly Day" every third week, which is a day off.
"Our pay is based on working 40 hours a week, but we work 48 hours so in order to make that up you get a Kelly Day every three weeks," Chief Wolever said
That schedule allows many firefighters to work other jobs or own businesses.
"I think they are fairly compensated for what they do," Chief Wolever said. "They work hard, they do a dangerous job, and they provide a service to the community. I don't think they are overpaid or underpaid."
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