Bell: Issue 2 will save jobs, help city avoid taxesWritten by Mike Bell | | email@example.com
Toledo Free Press readers have likely seen the Issue 2 commercial and heard my story; as a new firefighter in a financially strapped City of Toledo in 1980, I was laid off. Back then, if I had been offered the alternative of paying a little more for health insurance or decreasing my salary a little in order to keep working and collecting a paycheck, I would have taken it. Instead, I was out of work for nine months until the city could afford to rehire me and other laid off firefighters.
Now as Mayor, I am again faced with this challenging dilemma, nearly 30 years later. But again I’m left with few tools to correct the budget situation and keep city employees working to provide vital services. The state of the economy locally, in Ohio, and across the nation has put Toledo in the situation we, and other cities, are in. If Toledoans aren’t working and paying income taxes, then the city is going to have less revenue. This is the state of the economy and the current system in which we operate.
But the system is not working for Toledo or for other communities across Ohio. Akron faces an $87 million deficit. Cleveland is still working to recall 100 police officers laid off earlier this year. Cincinnati is projecting a $33 million deficit in 2012. In Toledo, 80 percent of our general fund expenditures are for personnel costs. I’m asking our employees to pay their share of pension and health care costs so that we can continue to allocate appropriate funding to services for our residents.
In 2007, the City of Toledo collected $169 million in income tax revenues. By 2009, due to the recession, collections were down to $141 million and Toledo faced a $48 million deficit in our 2010 operating budget. In light of this staggering financial shortfall, we asked our unions for assistance in cutting expenditures by offering contract concessions. After auditing our records, most unions agreed that we faced a significant financial hurdle, but they also told us they wouldn’t help us. As a result, we declared exigent circumstances on five of our collective bargaining agreements. Only then did they come back to the table to work with us to find an amicable solution.
By enacting exigent circumstances, we saved our city from financial ruin and avoided laying off our city workforce. It also cost us hundreds of man-hours in uncharted legal waters and at the State Employment Relations Board, demonstrating that we did not have the ability to afford contract obligations and had no other options than laying off a large and potentially unsafe number of employees. It was not a preferred course of action, but there was no other option for Toledo under state law at the time.
On Nov. 9, whether Issue 2 passes or fails, the city will have no more money than we did on Nov. 8. We expect that income tax for 2011 will reach $153 million, still $16 million less than we collected four years ago. Issue 2 will provide more tools to ensure that we can balance our budget, continue to provide the services our residents expect and deserve, and fairly compensate our employees for the hard work they do.
Issue 2 will save jobs and allow us to continue operating the city without raising taxes. For those reasons, I support the reforms to collective bargaining.
Michael P. Bell is mayor of the City of Toledo. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.