December 20, 2014

Elyria
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Issue 10 aftermath: Cuts coming, 15 police officers may be cut, mayor says

ELYRIA — The day after voters overwhelmingly defeated the city’s attempt to raise the income tax rate, Mayor Bill Grace said the Police Department will face the biggest cuts.

At this point, the only thing that could possibly save a few jobs will be concessions by the Police Department’s unions, he said.

“It will probably be close to 15 police officers laid off unless there is some sort of adjustment with their collective bargaining agreement,” he said. “If they can make some adjustment to their compensation — even on a temporary level — it will be closer to 10.”

Signs for the Elyria sales tax sit at the Knights of Columbus on Tuesday. (Photo by Chuck Humel, The Chronicle-Telegram.)

Signs for the Elyria sales tax sit at the Knights of Columbus on Tuesday. (Photo by Chuck Humel, The Chronicle-Telegram.)

Concessions from the unions are not out of the question, but Tom Baracskai, president of the Elyria Police Patrolmen’s Association, said union leaders need more information because patrol officers and supervisors operate under separate bargaining agreements.

“From the mayor’s standpoint, he just wants to cut the costs,” Baracskai said. “But we need to know how much of that cost is to come from EPPA and how much is to come from the supervisors union.

“If we had that dollar amount or a plan to work with, we could sit down and get to what he wants.”

Baracskai said one possible option is to reduce the rank of some officers, which will save money and keep guys on the streets.

Grace said Wednesday he is still working out how to shave $4 million from next year’s budget — the equivalent of the general fund’s projected deficit for 2010.

The cuts will run along the same lines as he has been telling residents for weeks. Beyond police officers, more firefighters will be cut and the Parks and Recreation Department will be able to provide only programs that can be self-funded through fees.

Grace said he plans to spell out how he’ll deal with next year’s dismal budget during the regular City Council meeting Nov. 16. Employees who will be laid off likely will receive layoff notices shortly thereafter, and the cuts will take effect by the first of the year.

The 10 to 15 police officers who lose their jobs will likely include a handful expected to retire by the first of the year.
“If more retire, there will be less layoffs,” he said.

In regard to the Fire Department, which has sustained huge cuts this year, Grace said he hopes to accomplish reductions through retirements, but he said he cannot say with certainty that no one else will be laid off.

Local firefighters union president Dean Marks said the department can’t stand to lose any more members.

“Any more cuts to the Fire Department — I don’t know where they are going to get them from,” he said. “If you count retirements, disabilities and layoffs, 29 firefighters are no longer working for the Fire Department. At this point, we are just worry about getting guys back, not losing anyone else.”

Grace said the city jail definitely will remain closed, and the Parks and Recreation Department will have to find a way to survive by paying its own way.

Issue 10 could have saved the city from its current fate, but residents in every corner of the city rejected the measure soundly.

The precinct-by-precinct breakdown of Tuesday’s vote shows that none of the city’s 40 precincts favored the tax.

Voters in each of the city’s seven wards voted against the increase, with the 3rd Ward and 4th Ward leading the way with a combined 3,360 votes against the tax, according to unofficial election results.

The tally from those two wards combined made up nearly half of everyone in the city who voted against the 0.5 percentage point permanent increase, which would have generated more than $5.5 million annually for the city’s general fund.

Still, Grace said there are lessons to be learned from the defeat. He contends the measure failed because of lack of communication between residents and the administration and the administration’s failure to clearly explain how decisions are made.

“I think if people understand facts better, there will be fewer disagreements,” he said.

In the coming weeks — while he also crafts a budget and fights an effort to recall him — Grace said he plans to find a way to improve the way he communicates with residents on what he is doing and why.

The city can’t ask for another income tax increase from voters again until November 2010 because of a charter amendment approved a few years ago. That leaves the city few options to raise money.

While some believe a property tax could be put before voters in May, Grace said it would likely have even less support than an income tax increase.

The best scenario, he said, probably is putting the income tax increase before voters again in a year.

Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or lroberson@chroniclet.com.