Monday, February 18, 2008

Arrogance and consequences

"The arrogance of the young is a direct result of not having known enough consequences." ~ Harry Golden, The Right Time: The Autobiography of Harry Golden, 1969

I came across this quote the other day, and immediately associated it with Toledo's .75% payroll income tax that is on the March 4th ballot.

There are so many people talking about defeating this tax: because Toledo government spends too much on un-mandated items; because politicians are threatening police and fire BEFORE cutting unnecessary spending; because of Carty and his bad decisions - especially with the U.S. Marines and how he's handled that national embarrassment...or for any number of other reasons.

But the reason our elected officials behave this way is because they always have - and we (the collective 'we') continue to reward them by accepting additional taxation and re-electing them to office.

Perhaps it's time for them to 'know the consequences.'

21 comments:

Hooda Thunkit said...

Maggie,

I'm down with that ;-)

No on the 3/4 % and no on czarty in 2009.

As long as I'm at it, no to any of those disagree with that too.

Tim Higgins said...

Maggie,

Let me add this to your list for suitable quotes covering the situation:

"Lack of money is no obstacle. Lack of an idea is an obstacle." Ken Hakuta

It is the lack of an alterntive idea, or even the attempt to come up with one that should be the real concern.

JMM said...

Hi Maggie,

I agree 100%. I am voting this down. It's time to clip some wings. I do have some questions I think you could help me with.

1 - With the police and fire pensions being footed by the tax payers, how much would we taxpayers save if the police and fire started picking up their protion. From the online budget the police contribution is over 12 million and the fire is just over 11 million. If they picked up half(police and fire employees)this would save us about 11 million, would it not? Lets not forget their medical copay which is next to nothing?

2 - What about local 7 members and the city paying all of their costs? There's a couple of million.

3 - Looking at the fire expences there is a muni garage cost of 1.04 million. What is this? Same with police - 2.3 million. This is in almost every department. Is this repair or parking? If parking why are the vehicles parked if fire stations or outside the police stations?

It seems as if there are a lot of other places to cut or make people pay their fair share as the rest of us do.

Thanks John

Robin said...

I plan on voting against this tax, because I think Toledo government spends wastefully. And that the garbage tax/fee irritates me.

Just Wondering... said...

I'm not really sure how to start "my comment"...

I guess I should start by saying that I'm a proud, life long citizen of Toledo. I am also a proud member of the city's safety services that serve the citizens of Toledo 24 hrs a day, 365 days a week. We collectively respond to the over 250,000 "911" calls made annually. We are the "grunts" that stand at the ready when our friends, neighbors, and ones who we personally don't know are in need of help. You call and we are there. Well if the 3/4% tax is not renewed this will change, this is not a scare tactic its just the reality of not enough funding for the services required. The citizens of Toledo are playing Russian roulette with the 3/4% income tax renewal. If it does not get renewed the city will continue to provide police and fire but it will be MUCH different than you are used to. I attended an information meeting today where Fire Chief Michael Wolever stated that if the renewal does not pass, 240 firefighters and 250 police officers will be laid off immediately. The fire department currently has approximately 460 men and women in uniform. That's over half of the uniformed employees serving Toledo's citizens. Talk of closing 9 of the 17 fire stations will be a reality. The response times will be greatly increased and I fear that some calls may go unanswered. There will just not be enough men and women to handle the volume of calls. Now I've been around long enough to see the "scare tactics" of our administrators, I've heard them cry poor before, but I do firmly believe that if the renewal does not pass the safety services will be gutted.
I and many of my co-workers share the frustration of the lack of positive direction of our city government. We are sworn to serve and protect and that is what we do. So if your trying to send a message to city hall by voting the 3/4% tax down just realize that the one that will feel the greatest impact is the average citizen. Please allow the "grunts" to continue to serve you and pass the 3/4% tax.

Maggie Thurber said...

jmm -

1) and 2) The public pays a portion of the retirement of police and fire through both the property taxes (the portion that goes to the city of Toledo) and through the general fund budget line item. Yes, if the police/fire/all other city employees went back to paying their portion of their retirement, then the city could save millions. Don't forget that each time a union has negotiated a 'pick-up' of that amount, the other unions have followed suit with 'me-too' agreements. City leaders have often applied those agreements to non-union employees. The unions will object to being told that something they negotiated is going to be taken away. Many unions gave up something or exchanged that pension pickup for either lesser or no wage increases.

However, the question is whether or not the employees could keep their jobs and then pay their portion of the pension - or suffer the layoffs of many of their fellow workers just so they can keep this benefit.

And that's the problem. I've been told by union leaders in the past that the maintenance of existing benefits for some was better than losing benefits, even if it meant that some - or many - of their members would lose their jobs. Go figure!

But it's an issue that needs to be addressed now - and the unions should be vocal in that discussion so the public knows exactly where they stand.

3) Several years ago, the city changed how they budgeted certain departments what provide services to other departments. Rather than look at the municipal garage as a function of having a fleet of vehicles, they decided that each department had to show 'revenue' to cover the 'expenses.' Such 'revenue' comes from 'charging' other departments for the services rendered. That's why you might have heard that an oil change costs $100 in the city of Toledo.

The problem is that other departments don't get to choose a lesser-cost service. All police vehicles have to use the muni garage - and each oil change costs a fortune. But the police department is NOT ALLOWED to say money in their budget by going to an outside source for this service. Talk about ridiculous.

I believe other departments do something similar when it comes to information/computing services - and maybe purchasing (?)...

Maggie Thurber said...

just wondering - I'm grateful, as I'm sure most citizens are, for your service.

However, just because some chief told you that police and fire would be the first cuts doesn't mean that the public is going to change its mind about the tax.

The problem isn't that we don't appreciate or want the services of police and fire - it's that so many other expenditures by the city seem to take precedence over the money needed to provide adequate emergency services.

There are certainly other things the city can cut BEFORE they lay off any police and fire. But they won't do that, because then they would clearly demonstrate that these other expenses are not 'necessary' we can do without them.

In order to justify the tax, they will pick the areas that most negatively impact the public for the first cuts - and all that will do is make the public more mad about the decisions the politicians are making.

But please see the post from jmm...and my response.

As a self-described 'grunt,' would you add a deduction from your pay for your health insurance - like the vast majority of Toledoans have to do? Would you go back to paying your own portion of your pension instead of the expecting the tax payer (who pays their own portion themselves) to finance the 'pickup'??

Would you prefer to keep your benefits (as generous as they are when compared to what the average Toledoan has) in order to prevent your fellow 'grunts' from being laid off?

Aren't there other departments the city can cut before deciding to layoff police and fire? Don't you think the mayor can do with a few less 'assistants' before making the decision to layoff a member of the safety forces?

And did anyone at your meeting ask these types of questions of the chief?

And do you really expect the Chief to tell you something OTHER than what Carty wants him to tell you?

Of course they're going to rally the troops - they're going to tell all city employees that their jobs are in jeopardy if the tax doesn't pass - and they're counting on you to help spread the word that doom and gloom will result if the tax fails.

By the way, the tax is collected through the end of 2008 - and there's at least one other opportunity for it to be on the ballot (in November, if not also in a special election).

So, just wondering, I think YOU and the other 'grunts' need to ask these kinds of questions and DEMAND that everything else gets cut long before a single police or fireman.

And I'd be really interested in your perspective of what you'd be willing to forego in order to keep your job.

Don't forget, the benefits (health insurance, pension, vacation and even pay) are much more generous for public employees than they are for the public that is footing the bill.

You should also realize that too many Toledoans are tired of paying for city employees to have the 'best' when they're the ones footing the bill while struggling to get by.

Maggie Thurber said...

Another question for 'just wondering' - both you and Toledo1 (a commentor on another post) are new bloggers as of this month...was there some suggestion by the chief or other city administration/leader to get on blogs and support the .75%?

Be honest, now, because a bit of easy checking will give me the answer....

:)

JMM said...

Maggie,

Thanks for the answers. Being new to the area again I'm not sure of how some things work.

As for "just wondering" - I too am a retired firefighter "grunt" who moved back to this area a couple of years ago. I had to pay 8% then 10% of my pay out of my pocket for my retirement then my district did a match of the same. I personaly think it is a shame and not fair that city employees have this picked up by the taxpayers.

I would like you to answer Maggies questions about paying your fair share to save some of your jobs. By the way I have a sibling who is with the TPD. How do you justify this when 1) Toledo is only one of three cities in Ohio who do this. 2) Then you can get into the DRIP program.

Do you really think they would lay off that many - I doubt it. What about the money thrown at Southwyck, Erie St Mkt., The Mayor and Council a discretionary accounts, The Mayors lights and shower and for the sake of a response I will stop the list. This money is spent when they scream deficit. I doubt you run your house like this.

Please don't get me wrong I respect you and the "job" you all do. This is about making this city start being accountable. I think this is the Mayor controlling the Union votes.

bobthedad said...

The defeat of the 3/4% renewal is chemotherapy for the city. It clearly won't be pleasant and the city will get sicker before it gets better but the condition has been allowed to progress for too long to respond to simpler treatments. I hate to see anyone (except politicians) lose their jobs over this but if we don't get a handle on this now it will be interpreted a a show of support for incompetence.

toledo1 said...

Reply to the question for toledo1 and just wondering.... I have my own opinions and do not need someone from the administration pulling my strings and telling me what to do. I am a concerned citizen, wife, and mother, who is trying to figure out why people would rather see the city fall apart and see Carty get what he deserves than rally and try and get things right. I get what you are saying about the 3/4% not being used for what it should, but I also get that politics are politics and they do not have the best interests of the city at hand. I agree that something needs to be done, but cutting safety forces is NOT the way to go about it. They WILL lay people off because the mayor is too arrogant to ever concede that something he is doing isn't right. If anyone thinks that laying off over 400 police and fire won't devastate this city, they are sadly mistaken. So please don't threaten me with a simple fact check - it's not necessary. I speak for myself and my family and no one else. Instead of spending your time checking me out, spend your time praying that nothing happens to your family after these departments are gutted because there will be no one left to help them.

Maggie Thurber said...

toledo1 - I hope you will spend as much effort telling city council NOT to cut police or fire until they've cut everything else - as you do with your comments on this issue here.

I believe that someone such as yourself, speaking on behalf of your family, is the type of individual city council members and the mayor need to hear from.

Yes, they will threaten safety forces ... and giving them such funding as a result of such threats is exactly what they're counting on.

The way to negate that is to start demanding cuts elsewhere...starting with the 22 or so people the Mayor has funded in his budget. Do you really think he needs that many assistants, etc?

The point is not to give in to threats to safety forces, but to identify other areas you would gladly go without in order to keep those safety forces. And that's the harder aspect of this ... telling council what you DO want cut INSTEAD.

Me? I'd start with the youth commission, the board of community relations, and all the assistants in the mayor's office. I'd go back and tell the unions that their PERS pickups had to be eliminated in order to reduce the budget and start into negotiations on that. I'd eliminate me-too agreements from every contract AND stop extending such 'me-too' provisions to non-union employees.

If we say no on March 4th, they'll put it back on the ballot in November...and they'll try to make our rejection of this tax the most painful that they can.

The problem is, we'll probably let them...

Just Wondering... said...

Maggie-

To answer your last question first, there was no suggestion given to me, or anyone that I know to enter the blogging arena. I have contributed my opinions to your blog as I hope everyone has. Not all city employees follow blindly just because the administration “says so”. In fact, one of the most important reasons for having unions, that you seem to despise so much, is our ability to speak out without fear of retribution. That was not always the case. In regards to our benefits, we negotiated with the city administration that has not always been upfront with the blue-collar employee. We have forgone wage increases many times and had many responsibilities added to our jobs while the workforce continues to shrink. As for a change in our benefits, that may very well happen when the contract expires at the end of this year, time will tell.
Please remember that I too am a resident of this city, pay city income tax as well and believe that cuts can be made. I want our tax money to be spent wisely, but your suggestion of eliminating 22 mayoral assistants (which is not a bad idea) doesn’t equate to $58 million in my book, but the 500 police and firefighters that would be eliminated without the renewal does get a little closer to that figure. I know you and many of the renewal opponents say “…it will never happen” and “its just a scare tactic” but I ask you what if it actually happens? We hear time and time again that the citizens want more police officers and firefighters on the street. So please answer my question; what’s your plan if it happens, and the police and firefighters are cut in half?

I guess for me Bob Chirdon, Vice President and General Manager of WTOL, says it best in his recent editorial.

“If the ¾ percent tax fails on March 4, Toledo will be in big trouble.

Firefighters and police officers will be laid off. City services will be cut back for years to come. Something has to go away. Without the tax, the city will lose almost $58 million worth of operating money.

But the people in this city are so angry at Mayor Finkbeiner, they may vote "no" just to send him a big, fat message.

I understand. He has been stupid. He deserves a "no" vote.

Unfortunately, this vote is not about the mayor. This vote is about you and your neighbors. And if you vote "no" on this tax, you lose. The mayor will still be the mayor.

I urge you to put aside your frustration. Vote "yes" on March 4. Help preserve the value of your town.

As for Mayor Carleton S. Finkbeiner, I hear he may run for re-election. Amazing! If he does, then you can vote "no"; as in, "no way," "no more."

Even he will get that message”.

And this is from a member of the local news media, not a city employee…

Maggie Thurber said...

just wondering:

1) I don't despise unions. My previous endorsements from Police and Fire unions, the Teamsters, the Toledo Federation of Teachers, the Carpenters, the Building Trades ... clearly indicate that I neither despise them nor disagree with them on every issue.

I have issues with the way many union leaders seem to have lost sight of the purpose of their organizations. I also have issues with how some unions will sacrifice members for benefits (some would prefer layoffs to a reduction in negotiated wages, benefits, etc.). To me, that seems a bit counter-productive to the whole "all for one" philosophy.

I also have great respect for the way many unions are adapting to a changing economy. The UAW's efforts at Jeep and the supplier park - the Teamsters and their approach to the trucking industry.

So - just because I think GOVERNMENT unions and management could do a better job of remembering who is paying for all those negotiated items, it doesn't make me anti-union.

And these are scare tactics - and they will be successful, especially with comments like those of Bob Chirdon. It's not just Carty who needs a message about spending. He can only spend up to $10,000 without Council approval. Council needs the message as well, especially when you consider Frank Szollosi's comments about CareNet. I've praised Frank's budgetary stances in the past, but to say that government still needs to spend tax dollars for CareNet AFTER the city's portion had been raised in private funds ... well, that philosophy is a serious part of the problem as well.

2) I didn't say that the only cut should be to Carty's staff...I mentioned several departments, etc. I believe Council should go through and eliminate from the budget anything that isn't mandated by law or that doesn't pay for itself in efficiency (i.e., computer services are not mandated by law, but without a computer network, the city wouldn't function). I also think that departments they've created and mandated within the Toledo Municipal Code should be un-created so they could eliminate funding. (see previous comment for suggestions).

I also suggest that you read Karen Shanahan's blog posts about the budget (a link is in the left-hand column), especially #2 about wages and benefits. The average city employee makes double the median wage in Toledo. And, taxpayers are paying - appropriately so - the employer portion of the PERS, but also - some say inappropriately so - the employee portion.

I realize that PERS pickups were negotiated in lieu of wage increases and that many union and non-union employees have gone without pay increases in previous years. But so have the taxpayers footing those bills. At the same time, the taxpayers have seen their medical costs increase, their property taxes increase, their cost of living increase...all without comparable increases in salary. Yet they are expected to continue to pay for such increases in public workers. It's not a sustainable approach and eventually, those paying the bills will say no.

The private sector goes through downsizing, reorganizations, etc... on a regular basis. When was the last time that the City of Toledo did anything like that? Not in the last 20 years, or so, that I can recall.

People are tired of working hard for their money and then being told they're terrible if they want government to be less costly. So, what things are YOU willing to go without so that the city can reduce its costs?

Would you pay your own PERS portion? Would you accept a payroll deduction for medical insurance? Would you make the garbage crews work 8 hours a day? Would you privatize vehicle maintenance? What???

JMM said...

Hi Maggie,

Excellent reply to "just wondering and "toledo1". I was working on a reply but after reading yours mine might suffer by comparison.

To Toledo1 - You have some strong feelings and fustrations. Then you give in by saying "politics are politics and they do not have the best interests of the city at hand". Why not direct your fustrations to the people you elected and let them know your tired of the way things are run in the City? I think that's what the politicians hope for, people saying "nothing changes, status quo" in Toledo.

As for the City falling apart. It has - hate to say it but look around - it's broken. Why would you keep funding a broken machine? People keep voting in the same people, or party, getting the same results then bitch when nothing happens. Have you looked at the proposed budget or look at some of the other posts as to where they can save money! There's a lot that can be cut BEFORE the threats to Police and Fire. I just heard there are 5 bikepaths in the budget - do we need to spend this money when we are still facing a defict and LOSING population?

I too am fustrated and I understand your concerns. Please don't think I am picking on you! Again - this is where we (you, me and others) need to tell the people in charge start looking elsewhere for the cuts. This is not about Carty its about financial responsibility.

To just wondering;

I'm sure there will be some lay-offs. But there needs to be changes made. Even you say "Something has to go away" but you still haven't said what or answered the questions about the PERS pick-ups, medical ins., Local 7 members pick-ups, and all the other fluff that could be cut. You continue to focus on the threats of public safety.
As for pay raises or lack there of, co-pays increases, added responsibilities - welcome to the real world. Did you see where the UAW in NY (I believe it's NY) just voted in a 30% pay DECREASE just to keep their jobs? Would you take a pay cut or pick up your retirement contribution to help your union brothers and sisters? You haven't answered that question either. Are your part of the safety services, your first post, or the media as you say in your last post?

If they do make big cuts in police and fire. There will be another house for sale - mine. That Michigan line looks real nice and I'll be following everyone else out of the City.

JMM said...

To just wondering,

My mistake on the local press question. I reread your post and realized it was the quote from the editoral. I apoligize.

toledo1 said...

jmm -

Cut all you want and it still doesn't add up to the necessary money to run a fire dept that makes 50,000 runs a year or a police department that makes at least that many. If the city didn't need the 3/4%, they wouldn't have asked for it back in 1982. Things haven't gotten any cheaper and run volume sure hasn't slowed down. I do take my frustrations to city council, town hall meetings, block watch and anywhere else that will listen. But in the meantime, how are people to stay safe? Since you are all telling people to vote it down, I hope you also have a plan to tell people what to do when they are injured, sick, dying, being assaulted, robbed, or their house is on fire because no one will be there. Do you really believe that 50 firefighters a day and 9 fire stations can handle 50,000 runs a year? Police are already understaffed - who are they going to be able to help? Someone is going to suffer.
And good luck selling your house too when it fails. Besides the mortgage crisis and the fear of recession, who is going to move to a city with no safety services?

JMM said...

Just Wondering,

You FAILED to answer if you would pay YOUR fair share of YOUR PERS, HEALTH INS, ETC, to save YOUR UNION BROS AND SIS'S from possible layoff. Unfortunately due to your lack of an answer for those questions I have to assume you wouldn't do that - so much for union solidarity.

Maybe it won't be enough to save some layoff's but its a lot better then the 450 they say. I bet it is - if the Police and Fire start to p/u your fair share of your PERS that alone is about 11 million. Local 7 costs the city approx 3 mill.

I not picking on the fire or police but ALL city employees should start to p/u their PERS, etc. That itself would be millions more saved. Add the the other unneccessary stuff - I think there is more then enough.

Who would move into a city that can't live in a budget, no jobs due to high taxes - not many. Your statement speaks for itself. Toledo has suffered a declining population for the last three decades.

Just Wondering... said...

jmm-

First, sorry about that not getting back with you sooner, I’ve been away from the computer for a couple of days, the kids have been keeping me busy.

Actually I don’t think I completely failed in answering your question about benefits. In my last posting I said that our benefits would be addressed and more than likely change when our contract expires at the end of this year. Me personally, I’m not opposed to picking up parts of the costs of our benefits, I realize economic times are tough. Again this will most certainly be addressed when the current contract expires. Unfortunately the same can’t be said when economic times are good. Nobody comes to the hourly worker and says "hey times are great, lets open up that contract and give you guys an extra quarter per hour”, that doesn’t happen. Or like in our last contract when we agreed to no wage increases for almost 3 years. I have to tell you that I get the feeling that some think that the city administrators just give contractual employees anything they want, this is definitely not the case. It is a very long and arduous process that leaves many on a contractual side frustrated and bewildered. Remember that federal law forbids police and fire from striking so to think that somehow we have this mysterious power over city administrators is crazy. We continue to work regardless of what is said or done. This is evident by the fire chiefs union whose members have worked without a contract for over 2 years.

In-regards to your statement “...living in a city that can’t live in a budget, no jobs due to high taxes”. This brings up a good point; the ¾% income tax is a renewal not an increase. The ¾% income tax has not increased in 20 plus years even with the decline in population and the increase in operating costs, labor, fuel, equipment etc. We have continued to operate under the same ¾% income tax and the city has not increased this amount.

For me, the bottom line is I love this city. I am extremely proud of the men and women that I serve with. I love serving the citizens, helping people and hopefully making a difference. I will continue to do this as long as I am allowed to do so.

Inclosing I would like to ask you and the other opponents of the ¾% income tax renewal, if you get your wish and it fails, lets just say that the mayor and city council are not lying, and 40% of the city workforce is laid off including 240 firefighters and 250 police officers. What’s your plan for the safety of Toledo residents? How long should the citizens be willing to wait after calling 911? Well if half the cops and firefighters are gone your guess is as good as mine.

Maggie Thurber said...

Just Wondering - I appreciate your thoughtful response to jmm...but I think, at the end, you ask the wrong questions. And asking the right questions is always the key to getting good answers. :)

We shouldn't be asking how we're going to protect citizens if hundreds of safety forces are laid off...we should be asking what we'd do without and what changes we can make NOW to avoid such layoffs. If we ask these questions first, we hopefully will never have to answer your questions.

I looked through the budget (there is a link in red at the top of the left-hand column on my main blog page) and came up with a serious error in the way council/mayor are approaching the cuts. I'll cover this in detail on Eye On Toledo tonight. But let me give you a preview:

1) the city website's link, as of yesterday, had the incorrect distribution of the .75% tax. 1/3 goes to safety, 1/2 goes to the general fund and 1/6 goes to CIP. That's $9.6 million that has gone directly into CIP and not into the general fund - ever. So, the amount of cuts that need to be made up is not $57.7 million, but $48.1 million. Police and Fire have had dedicated to them only $19 million, so that's all the cuts those two departments should have to make.

2) If the police and fire unions would agree to pay their portion of their retirement, that would make up $12.2 million of their $19, leaving $6.8 million of cuts they'd have to find. That's only 5.6% of their total budgets - easily to do an across the board cut of 5.6%. Under this scenario, no layoffs.

I've got similar figures for the 50% portion in the general fund - along with several departments which could be eliminated long before safety forces are laid off.

When you take the time to look at the numbers, you'll see that there is an intential effort to resort to scare tactics instead of being honest about various options - or our council/mayor are incompetent - as those are the only two choices for their distortions.

So - what are you, personally, willing to do without in order to prevent layoffs of the safety forces? Take a look through the budget and let me know what you'd cut prior to laying off a police officer or fire fighter...

JMM said...

Just wondering,

Thanks for the reply and to Maggie for the follow up questions. If you would please answer Maggie’s questions as she is much more literate then I. Have you looked at the budget? Look in the revenue portion and there are holes everywhere. I looked at pages 11, 12 and 13. I think that every line item should have an amount in place. In many high dollar slots there’s not an amount entered. This is what I found and Maggie please correct me if I’m wrong. If so I apologize now.

In OP funds there is 7.1 mil missing - no entry for 07 or 08.
Federal Block grants there is 8.7 mil missing – no entry for 07 or 08.
Capitol Improvement there is 54 mil missing – no entry for 07 or 08.

I hope I have that right and that adds up to over 69 million of revenue not accounted for in the 07 or 08 budget. That’s just part I found. If these funds are accounted for there would not be the threat of layoffs.

I appreciate your passion for the city and NO that is not a comparision to the Mayor. Be safe!

PS - there is no entry for the fire recovery either.

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