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Toledo City Council panel mulls budget for police, fire

A five-member committee of Toledo city councilmen spent Monday afternoon mulling over tight 2011 spending plans for the city's police, fire and rescue, and law departments while wondering if the full board understands what's at stake if it votes in favor Tuesday of absorbing fire and rescue operations for neighboring Ottawa Hills.

Councilman D. Michael Collins, a former Toledo police officer, said after the hearing that he is wary of Mayor Mike Bell's plan to have Toledo absorb Ottawa Hills fire and rescue operations but expects it to pass. The village is offering to pay $430,000 a year for the next 20 years of services, with all 10 Ottawa Hills firemen being integrated into Toledo's fire department.

Mr. Collins, chairman of the council's public safety, law, and criminal justice committee, said Toledo Firefighters Local 92 will likely file a grievance calling for a minimum staffing level of 107 firefighters per shift, up from the current level of 103.

Four more firefighters may not seem like that much, but for cash-strapped Toledo it could cause a huge increase in overtime, Mr. Collins said.

The proposal could have enough votes to pass. Six of 12 councilmen have either committed themselves to voting in favor of it or have said they are inclined to do so. In case of a tie, Mr. Bell could put it over the top with the deciding vote.

Little was said about the proposed Ottawa Hills contract during Monday's committee hearing, though.

The focus was on the 2011 police and fire department budgets, which would together account for $137.5 million, or 59.8 percent, of the city's $230 million general fund if the initial spending plans presented to the committee -- still subject to weeks of negotiations -- are approved.

The police department is asking for $73.2 million, up from 2010's figure of $69.4 million, while the fire department is seeking $64.3 million, up from $56.4 million, according to the budget documents.

Committee members questioned why the fire department has asked for a $7.9 million increase, more than twice the police department's request for a $3.8 million increase.

Mr. Collins said after the hearing he believes that's partly a result of Mr. Bell's political influence as the city's longtime fire chief.

Fire Chief Mike Wolever and his staff explained that many of the non-labor expenses are for equipment upgrades and training.

The department, for example, needs $165,000 more for training to fulfill its requirement of having firefighters become dually educated as paramedics. One line item calls for advertising to go from zero to $18,000 because the department needs to step up efforts to recruit minority applicants, officials said.

Police Chief Mike Navarre presented a graphic that shows Toledo with the lowest percentage of police officers in major Ohio cities and one of the lower per capita nationally, with only 1.88 sworn officers for every 1,000 residents. The national average is 2.72.

Presenters were told to come back to the next meeting with more details on how Toledo stacks up in spending for police and fire compared to other Ohio cities.

Contact Tom Henry at: thenry@theblade.com or 419-724-6079.

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