Saturday, August 04, 2001

City workers push petition

Hamilton safety jobs would be law

By Janice Morse
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        HAMILTON — Off-duty police and firefighters expect to hit the streets today with petitions for a ballot issue that would block city leaders from reducing safety staffing.

        “This isn't going to cost the citizens anything more than what they're already paying. The citizens are already paying for this level of police and fire coverage, but they're not getting that right now,” said Brian Robinson, president of the Hamilton Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 28.

        The police union and the International Association of Firefighters Local 20 are pushing for a charter amendment that would require city leaders to keep at least 122 police and 109 firefighters on the job.

        The move comes because six firefighting posts and two police positions are vacant. There is no plan to fill them, and the staffing situation could worsen. A hiring freeze has been in force for more than a year as the city grapples with job losses, including Friday's announcement of 300 jobs leaving as Mosler Inc. closes.

        “We decided we had to do something to guarantee the proper police and fire protection for the citizens of Hamilton,” said Fire Capt. Steve Timmer. He is on a 10-member fire-police charter amendment committee.

        Fire and police leaders say if city officials set priorities better, they would have enough money for safety staffing.

        “They're paying for "pet projects' instead of police and fire protection,” Mr. Robinson said, citing $3.3 million for the downtown Streetscape, $1.5 million in annual rent for the new city office tower and up to $1 million for a controversial road through Millikin Woods.

        He said the Millikin Woods project will cost the city $370,000 annually for two to three years — “and that's equivalent to seven positions in the police or fire department.”

        Vice Mayor Tom Nye isn't bothered by that criticism or by the charter amendment drive.

        He says many people have told him police and fire service ought to be the No. 1 priority for local governments. “The charter effort will give folks a chance to codify those feelings,” Mr. Nye said. “I think there's a lot of potential benefit to it. It's an excellent way to get more people involved in the process and let their thoughts be known.”

        Police and fire employees in Springfield, northeast of Dayton, have been covered under similar charter provisions since at least 1990, officials there said.


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