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Austerity will be the central theme as Mayor Mike Bell unveils his 2012 budget proposal Tuesday.
Still reeling from the economic downturn and faced with state funding cuts, the city has few options but to keep its spending lean. Nevertheless, Mayor Bell said Monday he intends to avoid laying off city workers, even as his administration continues to rein in spending.
"The whole premise of this was to make sure that we kept everybody working so that we could continue the services that everybody expects while still paying inside the tax structure that taxpayers are allowing us to pay," Mayor Bell said. "We have a pretty good plan, and I think it will work if we can keep everybody focused that we still are in some pretty lean times here in the City of Toledo."
Although income tax receipts have moved steadily upward this year, they are still about $16 million behind 2007 levels, the mayor said. At the same time, the city is experiencing drastic cuts in the state's local government funding, and revenue from the estate tax is to disappear in 2013.
The city also projects a deficit of between $5 million to $7 million for 2011, which must be dealt with to present a balanced budget for next year. Part of that balancing act is likely to come from the capital improvements fund, which the administration has dipped into for the last two years to offset revenue losses.
City employees almost certainly will bear the brunt of some of the shortfall. According to the mayor's spokesman Jen Sorgenfrei, personnel make up 80 percent of operating costs.
City council recently approved a contract for its largest union of around 800 workers, AFSCME Local 7, which freezes wages and increases the amount employees must pay for medical benefits and pensions.
The Bell administration is seeking similar concessions as it negotiates contracts with other city unions, including those representing police officers and firefighters. Some concessions, although not yet obtained, have been factored into the budget proposal, the mayor indicated.
"We need to be able to hold the line, and it's not about not appreciating our employees," Mayor Bell said. "We need to calculate how we're going to move forward while making sure everybody actually can still come to work."
Another tactic for balancing the budget will be staff reductions through attrition, Ms. Sorgenfrei indicated. She said the city will evaluate whether to fill vacancies based on how they relate to core services such as police, fire, water, and sewer.
"They're going to have to take a hard look and see if the vacancies are mission critical," she said. "It's no secret that we have limited revenue, and we've certainly pared back in every way we can, but we still have a structural deficit."
Nevertheless, Ms. Sorgenfrei said Toledo can expect to see a new police and fire class next year, although she could not say how big those classes would be.
The emphasis on employee concessions and leaving jobs unfilled is likely to irk the city's union leaders.
Steve Kowalik, who represents AFSCME Local 7, said not filling vacancies can lead to a deterioration of city services such as leaf collection and snow plowing because too few employees are left to get the job done. He said it could also compromise public safety if, for example, not enough communications operators are available to take emergency calls.
Mr. Kowalik also criticized Mayor Bell and his administrative staff for not taking significant cuts in their own pay and benefits.
"We've been making shared sacrifices to try to do what's best for the citizens and what's best for our membership … but the mayor and his administrative team aren't making those sacrifices," he said. "They haven't given back a dime of their salary or anything near what is being asked of Local 7 and what I'm sure they're going to be asking of other bargaining units. It really goes back to leading by example."
But Ms. Sorgenfrei said Mr. Bell is paid $14,000 less than the previous mayor -- a pay cut determined by a committee before he took office. He also pays 31 percent of his medical-coverage premiums, Ms. Sorgenfrei said. The mayor and deputy mayors pay the full 10 percent employee share of their pensions, she added. "The rest of us have health-care premiums based on what the unions pay," she said. "We pretty much cut everything there is to cut when we walked in the door on Day One."
Contact Claudia Boyd-Barrett firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6272.