Thurber’s Thoughts: Council misses golden opportunityWritten by Maggie Thurber | Toledo Free Press Writer | firstname.lastname@example.org
Toledo City Council missed some golden opportunities this week when they failed to take decisive action to cut out unnecessary expenses in the 2009 budget.
They did make some good decisions, including sending the ordinances voiding all union contracts back to committee (where they will probably languish), refusing to change the reciprocity rule for Toledoans working outside the city limits and tabling an increase in the trash tax – otherwise known as the garbage fee.
They wisely did not order employees and officials in the Municipal Court to take a 10% pay cut or eliminate their PERS pickups. This was wise by council because they have no authority over these other elected officials – especially after having approved their budgets for the year. Had they taken such action, they would have ended up – again – in court and would most likely have lost the case. However, since this ordinance was tabled, it might be brought up again by a mayor who is desperate for money.
Council and the mayor are correct that city unions need to address the pay and pensions that are so out of whack considering what most Toledoans (who pay for those wages and pensions) actually earn. That concessions are needed and supported by Toledo tax payers comes as no surprise to the unions. However, the proper place to attain those concessions is through the bargaining process – not by arbitrarily (and probably illegally) voiding or suspending the contracts because you don’t want to continue the negotiations.
City Council, in referring those ordinances back to committee, effectively told Mayor Carty Finkbeiner that he wasn’t going to be able to get his way through that maneuver and would have to sit down with the unions and actually ‘bargain.’
Now it’s up to the unions to do what they said they know they need to do – make concessions.
But amongst these issues there were several opportunities for Council to lead – and they missed them.
They only tabled the increase in the ‘refuse fee charge.’ They did not vote it up or down. This means it can still be brought up and, perhaps, passed, thus increasing the taxes on all homeowners. Also lurking in the background – and something that wasn’t even brought up – is the lawsuit that Karen Shanahan filed over this ‘fee.’
The city has claimed it is a fee and was properly imposed without a vote of the citizens. But in objecting to making the suit a class-action, they argued that the cost was actually a ‘tax’ and that citizens hadn’t properly objected to the tax in order to be eligible to join the lawsuit. It can’t be a fee in one instance and a tax in another, but the courts will have to rule on that. The problem is that the city is counting on that revenue – and on its continuation and, perhaps, increase – in order to address the deficit. What happens if the city loses the lawsuit seems to be ignored at every opportunity.
Given an opportunity to either say yes or no to the proposed increase, they chose not to make a decision.
Council tabled the ordinance to privatize solid waste. Various presentations have shown that the city could save about $4.3 million a year if they subcontract garbage collection. If they go to the single person automated trucks, it will only save about $3 million. The difference is plain and leaves many of us wondering what in the world they are waiting for. They’ve been considering changing the garbage collection process for months now and they appear no closer to making a decision than they were when they started. So while they defer a decision, they are continuing to incur the higher costs of not taking action – contributing to the deficit.
They also tabled an ordinance to reduce the Recreation Department budget. My personal opinion is that government has no business providing ‘recreation’ at taxpayer expense. Even if you disagree on that point, surely there is agreement that in dire economic conditions, no recreation expenditure is more important than keeping a police officer on the street.
City Council should have said yes to privatization and no to recreation. They are not in a position to pick and choose where they can save money. Sadly, they missed their golden opportunity to make decisions that are in the best interests of all Toledoans. As a result, we will see our deficit continue to grow and any cuts they may yet make will have to be more severe to counter their lack of action this week.
Maggie Thurber blogs at http://thurbersthoughts.blogspot.com/