Friday, December 28, 2012

Toledo taxpayers shafted (again!) in latest tit-for-tat over public employee wages

Yes, it's true - but sadly, not surprising that Toledo taxpayers are being stranded in the frigid cold as Mayor Mike Bell and Toledo city council engage in their own personal tit-for-tat over how much to pay their staffs.

To understand just how bad this really is, let's back up a bit.

The city has, for years, raided the Capital Improvements Plan budget in order to pay for everyday, general fund expenses. Going into 2012, they'd (legally) transferred a total of $50 million out of the account that is supposed to pay for major infrastructure improvements and roads - and used it to pay for things like office supplies, donations to local non-profits and pay increases for public employees.

They planned to continue stealing from the CIP for this fiscal year:

Faced with not enough income to meet their desire for 'more, more, more,' council has transferred (at last count) more than $50 million out of the Capital Improvements Plan fund (CIP) into the general fund to meet the everyday costs of the city.

So now council is going to start building back up the rainy day fund.

You'd think this was a good thing...but (there's always a but), they're still raiding the CIP to the tune of $12 million!

According to the city, the actual planned amount is $11,949,054, which does included $1.1 million originally unplanned, but approved by council yesterday to make up for the lack of revenue due to a delay in the opening of the casino.

Is there anyone else who fails to see the logic of this action?

They were patting themselves on the back for their plan to start building up the city's rainy day fund - which they depleted before they resorted to raiding the CIP - but they completely missed the point that they were taking another $12 million out of the CIP to do so.

And while they were at it, they decided to spend money they didn't have on a new director to run a previously eliminated department, a new filing system for their council offices and a consultant to create a Historic Preservation Plan.

Things went along normally for a while - or as normal as can be for Toledo, with politicians spending more than they take in, raiding the CIP and plotting ways to wring more cash out of the taxpayers.

Then Mayor Bell decided he wanted to increase the salary ranges for his administrative staff. He said he wasn't interested in actually giving pay increases; he just believed that the ranges needed to reflect current conditions.

Council balked.

Councilman Steve Steel, fearing that a pay scale increase would result in pay increases, went a step further and proposed a new ethics requirement for the mayor to "avoid any appearance of impropriety" or quid pro quo since many of these same administrators had contributed to the mayor's campaign.

In what can only be described as a political TKO, Bell came up with his own ethics proposal that applied not just to him, but to council as well.

But Mayor Bell has trumped Steel - handily - in submitting a new ordinance for a council vote.

While it is already illegal for individuals to solicit contributions from public employees in the classified service, Bell's ordinance would make it illegal to solicit and/or accept contributions from current city employees (not just those in the classified service), members of current employees' family and/or the bargaining units that represent city employees.

I'd call this game-set-match for Bell.

Needless to say, the entire subject was dropped.

But city officials were still crying poverty - so much, in fact, that Steel and Councilwoman Lindsay Webb decided Toledo just had to have a brand new, 10-year property tax levy to pay for parks and recreation. Steel and Webb pushed the tax increase and were soon joined by the mayor. They promised it would benefit seniors and kids and - believe it or not - reduce crime.

The bribes even included a new water park.

But a funny thing happened along the way to the ballot box. Maybe Bell didn't really want that new levy to pass. How else to explain his sudden announcement that he was giving pay increases to more than 50 staff members, totaling $295,000 a year?

Surely if the city had a third of a million dollars lying around, it didn't need a levy for parks, right?

Council was not amused, though Republican Councilman George Sarantou, Chairman of the Finance Committee actually justified the expense by claiming the city was expecting a $900,000 surplus.

Yes, you read that correctly.

Now the city has a budget surplus? I thought they had no money to pay for parks and recreation?!?

And how did we get this surplus? Did we NOT raid the CIP fund as they planned? Did they repay the advance they took on the CIP when the casino didn't open in time?

Have they thought that maybe reimbursing the $50 million or so they previously raided from the CIP might be a bigger priority to citizens than "valuing" administrators that have better pensions, vacation time, holidays and pay than they do?

But council doesn't like to be outdone, especially when some of the council members have aspirations to sit in the mayor's seat. Hence the latest tit for tat between council and the mayor. After all, it's only fair to retaliate against mayoral raises with raises of your own, right?

In response to Mayor Mike Bell’s across-the-board salary increases in October for 55 administrators and lawyers — a move that will cost the city $295,000 more a year — Toledo City Council has given a pay bump to four officials it controls.

Council voted 9-1 to increase the salaries of the council clerk, assistant clerk, city auditor, and plan commission director by 8 percent. But those four employees will lose their 5 percent “pension pickup” by the city, netting a 3 percent increase overall.

Councilman D. Michael Collins, who pushed for the compensation changes before council approved them last week, said it was the fair thing to do after the mayor boosted salaries an average of 9.8 percent, with no adjustment, for administration officials whose pension payment plans are still covered by the taxpayers.

Throughout all of this back and forth, spending, raiding the CIP and concern for the self-esteem of public employees, the taxpayer has been ignored.

Rarely has anyone mentioned, much less thought about, the out-of-work Toledoan who is footing the bill for this excess and political gamesmanship.

The taxpayer gets shafted while politicians maneuver for personal gain and engage in childish "I'll show you" antics.

Meanwhile, for 2013:

Toledo Mayor Mike Bell presented the 2013 budget today and it plans to raid $13.96 million from the Capital Improvements Plan (CIP) fund while spending more money on parks and recreation.

Happy New Year, taxpayers!

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