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Published: Tuesday, 3/30/2010

Citizens pan, praise mayor during forum

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER

"We think we need to get the union contracts under control," said West Toledoan Carol Woodworth. "Everyone in this room who has a job has had to take a pay cut."

Mayor Mike Bell and Councilman Lindsey Webb presided at Whitmer High School over the sixth and final public hearing on the Toledo's budget crisis.

As with the previous public meetings, those in attendance voiced a level of frustration along with a number of ideas to generate money without reaching into the pockets of taxpaying Toledoans.

Paul Vizcarro, who moved to Toledo three years ago from California, told Mr. Bell cutting the city's safety forces would be a mistake.

"What I have seen in three years is a deterioration," Mr. Vizcarro said. "My concern is that the last thing you want to do is cut your police and fire."

The Bell administration has reduced a $48 million general fund deficit to about $25 million and is asking Toledo City Council by tomorrow night to increase the monthly trash fee to $15, eliminate the tax credit on residents who work and pay taxes outside the city, and implement an 8 percent events tax.

Mr. Bell has also asked council to take the controversial move called "exigent circumstances," which involves imposing cutbacks on employees' health insurance and retirement benefits outside of union negotiations.

The city has reached a deal with only one union, Toledo Firefighters Local 92.

The deal requires them to pay 3 percentage points of their pension payments for nine months and defer payment of $1.8 million in overtime until next year.

That saved the city $3.08 million and was one of the measures that reduced the deficit to $25 million.

Mr. Bell assured the small group that his administration had already clamped down on spending and found about $20 million internally without any of the measures that need council approval

The Toledo Police Patrolman's Association membership rejected the deal.

Dale Stevens of West Toledo said he thought it was a bad deal for taxpayers because it simply postpones the debt until next year - which is similar to what former Mayor Carty Finkbeiner did with safety forces' contracts last year.

"They banked all that money and then the city had to pay it out this year in the millions," Mr. Stevens said. "How is that a good deal?"

Some of the other ideas shouted out during the two-hour meeting included charging Toledo's surrounding communities more for water, having a citizens' group sit in on city contract talks, and cutting salaries for all city employees.

The city must have a balanced budget by 11:59 p.m. tomorrow.

Deputy Mayor of Operations Steve Herwat acknowledged it is difficult to implement governmental changes in less than two days.

"We may hear an idea we had not thought about," Mr. Herwat said. "We have already heard a lot of frustration over higher taxes."

Ms. Webb said the meeting produced a number of ideas that the Bell administration could investigate after the budget is balanced, including an audit of street lighting and charging higher rates for municipal water.

"There is not a single cure-all," Ms. Webb said after the two-hour meeting. "The one thing I did hear from everyone is that they expect the bargaining units to make concessions."

Contact Ignazio Messina at:

imessina@theblade.com

or 419-724-6171.



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