The embattled mayor of Toledo brought a message of hope to East Toledo Thursday when he spoke to the East Toledo Club.
While Mayor Carty Finkbeiner faces a $20 million budget deficit and a recall, he was buoyant about the city’s future when the city he “breathes and bleeds for” emerges from the recession.
The mayor emphasized the positive national press the city has received recently from the New York Times, Newsweek, CNN, and Site Selection Magazine regarding the region’s emergence as a solar manufacturing center. He talked about recent investments by Chrysler and GM to modernize the Jeep and Toledo Powertrain plants, both of which are now models of efficiency and well-positioned to survive following the recession.
Mayor Finkbeiner also talked about the promise of development along the Maumee riverfront at the Marina District. Few cities have restaurants and entertainment complexes right on the river where boaters can dock adjacent to them like they can at The Docks in East Toledo.
He also touted the possibility of a casino locating next to the Pilkington plant on the Rossford-East Toledo border. The mayor said he supports one proposal put forth by the owners of Raceway Park and the Cleveland Cavaliers which calls for casinos in Cleveland, Cincinnati and Toledo. The mayor said, "I'm for it, not because I think it will solve our economic development challenges due to the lost jobs in the automotive industry, but I also don't see it as the devil like some people do."
The mayor also addressed the recall effort led by a group of businessmen calling itself Take Back Toledo. The group has garnered more than 20,000 validated signatures and voters could get their chance to reaffirm the mayor's policies or oust him as early as September. Last week in a statement sent to The Press, he said the day he turns over the city to a group of “malcontents” who live outside the city will be “a cold day in a warm place.”
The mayor reiterated to club members that he will not step down. He said many of the leaders of Take Back Toledo are from the suburbs. "How do they know much about Toledo? They don't live or invest in Toledo."
In order to balance the budget, which is required by state law, Mayor Finkbeiner said he has been forced to layoff 150 police officers May 15. He said the city is losing $100,000 a day and city council and the police union have not bought into the administration's original plan to avoid the layoffs. That plan called for a one-year abeyance on the city's contribution to the retirement plan and a 10-percent wage cut for a year.
Mayor Finkbeiner expressed his disappointment to the crowd. "In good times you reward your workers with good contracts. In challenging, difficult times everybody should step up and do what's necessary to keep as many of your fellow employees working as you can...It makes sense for everybody to take a little bit of hurt, rather than some people taking a big hurt and have the whole community concerned about public safety."
He praised members of AFSME Local 7 whose members, he said, understood the city's plight and agreed to concessions earlier in the year. His executive staff has already taken a 10 percent pay cut and on May 1 the staff will work four days a week, in effect taking a 20 percent pay cut.
For many of us in the private sector this is not news. Pay cuts, loss of benefits or higher employee contributions for health insurance and layoffs have been common during these uncommon times. Few business or political leaders could have planned for the precipitous drop in revenue we have experienced.
Following the one-hour speech, the mayor stayed an additional 30 minutes to answer questions about the concerns of East Toledoans. These centered on police protection and the cleanliness of their neighborhoods. They told stories of trash dumped in alleys, absentee landlords neglecting their properties, arson fires and city garbage collecting crews leaving debris on the road and in the yards after collecting garbage. The mayor told residents who to call and vowed to follow up.
While the mayor and council and the unions fight over who will bear the financial burden caused by the recession, the mayor admitted the shortfall of GM’s announcement Wednesday that it will shut down most factories in the U.S. for nine weeks this summer hasn’t been calculated. That’s more than 1,000 workers at Toledo Powertrain alone. Conservatively speaking, the loss of payroll income tax is only a few hundred thousand dollars, but if Chrysler and other suppliers follow suit the mayor will face still another challenge.