Thursday, February 28, 2008

More details on the 3/4% temporary payroll income tax

Last night on Eye On Toledo, we discussed cuts we can make in the non-safety departments funded by this temporary tax. Details are available here.

Bottom line: we can survive without this income - if we're willing to re-focus city government on essential government services and bring employee benefits in line with what those footing the bills enjoy.

15 comments:

toledo1 said...

You have got to be kidding me! Conversation goes two ways - not someone blowing out information and cutting off the other person talking! How biased can you possibly be? Take one thing people say out of context and then hang up on them so they cannot respond - I feel like I was fighting with a sixth grader! Give me a break - that is flat out childish! Keep at it!
Please go spend a day with police and fire - you most likely could not handle it! They get the money they do because of what they do! Good luck to all of us when safety services are cut.

Maggie Thurber said...

Toledo1 - I don't know which 'caller' you might have been, but I didn't hang up on anyone.

I do not do my own board - the board operator cues in and cuts off the phones. If you are who are think, I thought YOU hung up. I will check with the board op about this to ensure it doesn't happen in the future as I'm perfectly willing and quite able to engage in debate with anyone. (I have three different people who do the boards for me and they all do things a bit differently).

As for spending a day with police and fire - I spent 9 years as the Clerk of Court working extremely closely with both these fine departments. When I first took office and needed reports out of the antiquated computer system, my consistent instruction was that reports had to be run at a time when it did not negatively impact computer inquiries coming from the officer on the street. I've spent plenty of time with Police, less with Fire, probably more than any of the current elected council members or mayor (except perhaps M. Collins). I've also have the honor of being endorsed by the Toledo Police Patrolman's Association, The Toledo Police Command Officers Association and Toledo Firefighters Local 92 during my elections. I'm NOT an enemy of these individuals nor these unions.

Police and Fire are my FIRST priorities - that's why I've suggested that if the 3/4% tax doesn't pass, they should only have to cut their budgets by $19 million - which is all they get from the tax. And I showed how that could be done without laying them off.

Further, I don't mind the wages they are paid, but I think it only fair that they - and all other city employees - pay their own portion of their retirement AND pay through a payroll deduction for their medical insurance. The citizens who are paying for these perks have to pay higher taxes for them, while shorting themselves and the future of THEIR families in order to be able to afford those taxes.

Additionally, I think all city workers and elected officials need to be mindful of the fact that they have greater benefits, wages, vacations, sick days, holidays, etc...than the average Toledo citizen. That was the purpose of bringing up the median wages of city employees and the median HOUSEHOLD wages of Toledoans. When your government has a higher standard of living than the citizens who pay to support it, you have an unsustainable government. Eventually, things collapse when the citizens say 'no more.' That is the state we are in today.

Trying to appeal to the sympathies of the citizens by saying citizens should suffer even more sacrifices for themselves and their families in order to continue unsustainable benefits for city employees is what's insane. So I reject the argument that just because they are safety forces - or city employees - they are somehow entitled to better benefits than those of who have to pay for them. The days of such generous contracts are over - its just that the governments have been slow (as usual) to recognize it.

Regardless of our opposing positions on the benefits paid to city employees, let me ask you these questions:

Rather than get mad at ME for pointing out the fallacy of the arguments being presented by the elected officials - why aren't you mad at THEM for threatening cuts to police and fire before they cut all the non-essential services?

Why are you mad at me for saying there are ways to accommodate a lack of these funds without layoffs?

Why aren't you writing comments like this to all the elected officials and telling them to stop threatening Police and Fire and to start talking about what NON-ESSENTIAL services they can cut instead?

Instead of calling me childish - why aren't you holding your elected officials accountable for NOT cutting police and fire???

If you persist in excusing their threats and giving credence to them, you are letting them get away with it and they WILL do these things.

But they won't if you - and others in the city - get as mad at THEM for making these threats, as you are at me for pointing out that it isn't right or necessary.

If you don't want safety forces cut - demand that the elected officials cut everything else instead - they work for you, remember?

toledo1 said...

I will say again that I DO take these things to council. I write to council, go to council meetings, and regularly address council on these issues. I sit on the board of our neighborhood organization and am a leader of our Block Watch - I put my actions where my words are. That is exactly why I don't want this to fail. Even with these efforts, they are still threatening cuts and I feel they are too arrogant to concede that they are wrong - they will lay people off and people will be at risk! Do you honestly think the mayor is going to say, "yea you're right, I'm wrong - let's make these budget cuts." Absolutely not and that will put this city at risk. Even if you ask people to fail it to send a message in March, what do the citizens of Toledo do in the meantime while safety forces are laid off? They aren't going to wait until November to lay people off. It is playing roulette with people's lives. I have a family that I want to keep safe and if that means paying 2.25%, like the rest of Ohio, then so be it.

As for the phone call, I called back and your operator said it is a decision of the board operator and when I stated that that was a very biased way of spreading a message, he said, "Well, we are a biased station" and hung up. I was warned not to call because your station is well known for taking one point, misstating what people are saying, and then either not giving them the opportunity to speak or hanging up on them. I thought I would give you a shot since you respond in a pretty civil way on your blog, but I was proven wrong.

As for the smoke alarms, what were the fire chief's exact words? Did he say they couldn't buy anymore or that they would have to end the program? Those are two very different things and they would have to end the program because they wouldn't have the manpower to hand them out! Again, taking words and spinning them is not a fair way to get the message across.

As for rallying for computers for police and being endorsed by unions, that is not the same as spending a day with them. Have you ever had to get up 5-10 times a night to save someone else's life? Ever sleep in broken down fire stations that only get anything new at the firefighter's expense? Do you have to pay for the furniture you sit on at work? Not that it matters because they spend the better portion of their 24 hour work day saving lives, breaking down walls to save a child from a burning home, or carrying a child out that didn't make it out of that fire, delivering a baby on a porch, rescuing someone out of a hole in a factory... the list goes on. And what is that worth to you? Would you tuck your pants into your shoes so roaches don't climb in while you are trying to help someone? How would you feel after a diabetic person threw up all over you? Have you ever been shot at while at work? Arrested a rapist? A murderer? Has your car ever been hit while you were chasing a criminal? My guess is that you can't say these are part of your daily job and most of the naysayers of the 3/4% wouldn't want to. The pension pick ups were received in lieu of pay raises over the years so it should be included as part of their income and wages. I say again, thinking about the things stated above, they get paid what they do because of what they do. It is not out of line and the services these people perform daily is worth every penny they get.

Maggie Thurber said...

I will speak to my phone screener (different from the board operator) about how I take calls. As board operators do things differently, so do show hosts.

I've never been a police officer or a fire fighter. I know my limitations and those are not jobs I'd be good at. I also wouldn't make a good social worker or scientist. No matter how difficult the job, or how valuable one thinks the work performed is - there will come a point at which people will say 'enough' in terms of compensation. That usually comes when they believe that their own needs outweigh the prices they are being asked to pay.

That's a fact of life - and many Toledoans have reached that point - so they're going to vote no.

If you want to vote for the tax because you fear what the elected officials are going to do - then do so.

But remember - giving in to threats validates them and makes them likely to be used in the future.

p.s. remember that the tax is collected through the end of 2008, so while the city might issue layoff notices, they will have the same amount of money through the end of 2008 that they budgeted. There should be no need to layoff people now - and to do so would only be a vindictive action against the elected officials 'bosses' - you and me. Sometimes I think they need to be reminded that they work for us - not the other way around.

Maggie Thurber said...

Also - don't forget that when this tax was first put on the ballot, voters were told that they could always vote it down if they didn't like how the city spent the money. Well...

toledo1 said...

Please understand - I agree with you. Sign me up for the next "Recall Carty", I cringe every time he speaks. Tell me when you plan to go toe to toe with them instead of making radio challenges - I will be there. Are we pawns in their game? I don't know, but I just cannot afford to take that chance.
Is 2.25% really out of line compared to other cities in Ohio? Costs of everything have gone up., but the tax has stayed the same. Has your salary increased since 1982? It isn't like this is a new tax or an extra burden, we've paid this, like many other cities, for years. And we aren't paying anymore than we were in 1982, it is still 2.25%. What happens when we cut all CIP projects because we don't want to continue paying the 3/4%? Who is going to come to a city with potholes galore and parks with grass 3 feet high? We have to be able to attract people to live and work in our city and we cannot do that if EVERYTHING is cut. I love taking my chidren to the park and meeting with neighbors and friends. Our park is FULL everday in spring, summer, and fall. Do you suggest we let the city fall into ruins because they are "non-essential"?

Maggie Thurber said...

I have more influence on the radio than I ever had as an elected official...I'm where I can do the most good.

This isn't about Carty - it's about how the city - mayor and council regardless of the individuals - spends money.

Is 2.25% really out of line compared to other cities in Ohio?

yes - it's higher than some of our surrounding cities. However, comparing a tax from city to city is irrelevant without also comparing the incomes/earnings that support the tax.

Ottawa Hills has much higher household incomes so they can support a higher tax for their schools.

This tax has gone up as well. The percentage is the same but it is applied against increased earnings as wages have gone up with COLA and other increases. Therefore, the revenue from the tax today is higher than the revenue it generated in 1982 when it was first started.

However, in Toledo's economy, many citizens have NOT seen COLAs or have seen increases in costs of their medical insurance, etc. City employees have gotten pay increases, retirement pick-ups in lieu of wage increases and still pay nothing toward their medical insurance. This is why the median wage of INDIVIDUAL city worker is nearly $14,000 more than the median HOUSEHOLD income. The disparity between these two continues to increase as those with the means leave the city...

And you certainly don't want to use MY salary as an example. In 1982, I graduated from high school and started working. Today my salary is less than what I made then. It's been higher at times...but I'm not a good comparison.

Regardless, everyone's costs have gone up. We make cuts in our family budget because we can't just go to our bosses and say 'pay me more.' With limited funds we prioritize - as the city should do, providing essential city services and eliminating the non-essential ones.

Only 1/6 ($9.6 million) of the tax goes into the CIP. That's about 10% of the yearly CIP total budget. If the city would eliminate non-essential things, including in the CIP, we'd have plenty of money for the essentials.

Oh - and I didn't eliminate Parks & Forestry in my scenario...but I did eliminate the recreation department, so your kids will have parks to play at. Way to tug on the heartstrings and use the 'its for the children' ploy. :)

As for attracting business - the high payroll tax is a factor in keeping businesses OUT of the city. It was a major factor in OI leaving. I spoke personally to Steve McCraken at the time and he told me that himself. Leaving the city gave all non-Toledo residents (which was a large majority of his staff) an instant raise that OI did not have to pay for.

Please note - you cannot 'win' this argument based upon the facts. They're not on the side of the supporters of this tax.

You can decide to vote yes based upon your fear of what the elected officials will do. That is certainly your perogative and the reason we have elections.

I choose to offer alternatives to their fear tactics and then challenge them to do the right thing and NOT layoff police and fire while re-focusing their spending and their priorities on what they should do: essential city services and no more.

toledo1 said...

I am not pulling at heart strings, cute though. I work very hard to keep our neighborhood beautiful and strong for my kids - there is no "ploy" involved.
If it doesn't pass, let me know when you plan on going to council to ask for answers - I would love to hear answers from the source. Until then, I am still going to pray that saftey is assured for the citizens of Toledo.
Thanks for the discussion, too bad your operator couldn't hang up on my blogging:)

jrs said...

For me the 3/4% tax question is similiar to the COSI levy in that they are both examples of differences in "what is" and "what should be". There should have been oversight, a better business plan, and more private funding of COSI - but it didn't happen. The levy became the quick fix solution that, if rejected, would lead to the demise of COSI. In the absence of an alternative, voters defeated the levy and COSI is gone.

Maggie, you're right about surviving without the 3/4% tax by refocusing city government. That's the "what should be". The "what is" is that this administration & City council are incapable and apparently unwilling to do that. At least that's what Toledo history has shown us.

So while you and I and a bunch of others know that it's possible to survive without the 3/4%, the threat to take away certain vital city services becomes a very real possibility, most likely a reality because "they" just don't get it.

I feel that until you can actively change the thinking of the powers that be, you sometimes have to deal with the "what is" rather than the "what should be". At least in the short term.

I think that while what you're advocating makes sense and is the right thing to do in the long run, not everyone has the stomach for it and are afraid that services will be cut regardless of whether they need to be. My two-cents.

Maggie Thurber said...

jrs - thanks so much for your comment...I found it to be worth a fortune - not two cents!!!!

toledo1 said...

Since everyone thinks you are a hero from your "discussion" with me last night, please tell me what your specific plan is if this fails. You are the leader of this movement to fail the levy and since you are rallying the troops, it would only be responsible to lay out your plan for after it fails. Yes, you have given numbers on how the city CAN make this work, but what is your specific plan to GET the city to make the necessary changes and keep services at the current level? I hope that you have a specific plan of action, not just words and challenges, to keep services where they currently are. People are going to vote this down based on your words and then look to you and say, "now what?" Will you have an answer? Will you be leading the charge at city hall? Maybe it's because you were so "succinct", as one caller put it today, while you were talking last night that we didn't get to that point - or maybe it was that whole operator error thing. Either way, would you mind laying it out for me?

Also, did you ever find out what the fire chief actually said about that smoke detector program? That was part of your arguement - one of their "scare tactics", I just want to be sure of his actual wording.

As for the 2.25% question I asked, I said other cities in Ohio, referring to comparable cities, not Ottawa Hills, and I wasn't asking about supporting schools, which is a property tax issue. Comparable cities in Ohio, i.e. Cleveland, Akron, Youngstown, Dayton, Cincinnati, Columbus, etc. - larger urban cities with great necessity for safety and trash services. They have comparable tax rates - anywhere from 2.0 - 2.75%, so we are not that out of line for comparable cities in Ohio. How many police and fire runs does Ottawa Hills make each year? They are not comparable.

Maggie Thurber said...

Toledo1 - why is it that you think people need to be led?

Why is it you think I'm 'leading' some movement? I'm presenting information accurately and publishing the numbers to back everything up - unlike the elected officials who've not published ANY numbers whatsoever in terms of what the budgets will - or could - look like if the tax failed.

People are listening to the informatiion and deciding that I'm right about the information and that they're not going to support the tax.

I think the city can do without the money and I've shown how. Some people agree - some don't. But the figures are there for all to see and evaluate.

If the tax fails, it's the job of the elected officials to HEED the will of the voters. I've been there/done that and have finished with that job.

I don't see you questioning the elected officials about how they're going to preserve essential services ... you seem to accept that they'll do the most harm to the public that they can.

You're 'questioning' the wrong person!

As for the Fire Chief's statement, let me get this straight: You're challenging my opinion of it but you don't even know what it said? I've done enough homework on this issue as it is - so you can go to the paper and look up his ad and read it for yourself.

You are certainly entitled to disagree with my comments on it, but know this: the smoke detector fund is NOT part of the CIP or the General Fund which is where the tax goes. A defeat of this tax will NOT hamper the smoke detector giveaways. Even if you somehow want to say that layoffs of fire personnel would mean that they can't give out these items, I'd challenge you on that, as well. In order to get one of them, you have to go to a fire station and pick it up. No matter how many firefighters they 'threaten' to layoff, I sincerely doubt it will mean that they can't put some detectors in the stations and then hand them out when someone shows up and asks for one.

Also - I used Ottawa Hills as an EXAMPLE of how taxes are relative to EARNINGS of residents - it's not fair to compare the taxation rate of one city to another WITHOUT also comparing the earnings of the residents of that city...Some cities can have higher tax burdens because their residents can afford it. Others can't. But then, I'm repeating myself because you obviously missed that point the first time around.

Additionally, as we've seen in Toledo, people who don't like what the city does in terms of taxation - and have the ability to do so - LEAVE. Why do YOU think Toledo's lost population??? Do you think the level of taxation might - even remotely - be part of the problem????

If you don't want to vote for the tax - don't!

If you want to vote for it - do!

But don't vote because you're AFRAID of what those nasty elected officials will do to you if you don't comply.

Maggie Thurber said...

One last thing...the fire chief's comments were in his newspaper ad that he used CITY FUNDS to pay for...

I'm always certain of my sources and don't use them if I'm not.

Robert said...

WOW...OK OK OK
First Toledo1 I'm so happy that you are so involved in the block watch and everything else.Just like you watch for bad guys you have to be just as fearless to watch over YOUR city government.It's very simple YOU and the rest of the citizens pay for them and thier bike paths,flower's,sign's(welcome to toledo...)only if you and other's like you would put that much energy to stay on the mayor's back-side to stay on budget this city would be leaps and bounds from where we are. Just a reminder the government doesn't have a dime that they have EARNED!!!!! It's YOUR'S and ANY OTHER taxpayer or TAX VICTIM... have a great day and stay strong the mayor will not cut police and fire.... CARTY is a BULLY!!!!

Maggie Thurber said...

I'm having some trouble with comments on blogger:

Toledo1 said:

Interesting that my comments about comparable cities, not Ottawa Hills, didn't make your post. Reminder again, Cincinnati, Columbus, Cleveland, Akron, Dayton, etc. are comparable to us. They are a large urban city, they make comparable wages, they have similar demographics, and similar safety figures. Being that they pay nearly the same tax rate as us and have very similar incomes as Toledo residents, they are a much more accurate comparison than Ottawa Hills. All of these major cities, similar to our city, are able to support their 2.0-2.75% income taxes. I didn't miss your point.

The cities you reference also have declining populations, loss of businesses and high unemployment - yeah...let's duplicate their high tax structure as well and maybe we'll have the same results they do?

But again, you present a fallacious argument: a few other cities have high taxes so it's okay for us to do so as well? I can't help but be reminded of what every mother asks "if all your friends jumped off a bridge...?"

In all your postings, I can't help but think it's a fearful way to go through life: paraphrased, "I'm going to vote for something I don't believe in because I don't trust my elected officials to do the right thing..."

That might be the biggest reason why Toledo is a continual failure...

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