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Published: Wednesday, 7/23/2008

East Toledo mixed on plan for fix-up fee

BY MEREDITH BYERS
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Brenda Hagman took her tax bill and a list of questions to the River East Economic Development Corp. meeting last week.

She was not the only one.

Ms. Hagman was one of about 70 East Toledo residents who came to a meeting last week led by Brad Peebles, executive director of the River East Economic Development Corp., a nonprofit community development corporation. Mr. Peebles presented a proposal that explored creating a "special improvement district" that would encompass the 43605 ZIP code.

Under Mr. Peebles' plan, River East would collect a fixed fee from property owners and use that money to help enhance the attractiveness, safety, and desirability of its neighborhoods.

The fees, which would not be based on the property's value, would be collected through the property tax process and would appear on tax bills as similar to a special assessment.

The proposed fees are $75 for residences, $300 for commercial properties, and $500 for industrial properties.

The funds would be overseen by a board of directors created specifically for the district by River East.

Dan Steingraber, chairman of River East Associates, a nonprofit East Toledo business group, also helped lead the meeting. Mr. Steingraber, who grew up in East Toledo, praised the plan because "every penny we pay into this program gets written back to East Toledo.

"The county doesn't take a single penny. We'll decide what gets spent," he said.

Mr. Peebles said beautifying the neighborhoods of East Toledo would make the area more attractive to businesses.

"People who are coming to Toledo to look for a place to bring in an industry or job-creating entity will see the community.

"We put the best face on East Toledo in an effort to promote and encourage these opportunities," he said.

Mr. Peebles offered some incentives to East Toledo residents. He said possible programs include an improvement grant that would match homeowners' spending on home improvements, a painting grant, and money for landscaping.

Many residents, especially senior citizens who live on fixed incomes, were concerned about the additional fees, who would serve on the board of directors for the district, and who would be held accountable for the funds.

"I want to know who is going to be on the board, who will be accountable, and why they [River East Economic Development Corp.] didn't get money this year because they forgot to send in the paperwork," Ms. Hagman said. She was referring to River East's loss of city funding for 2008-2009 because its application was incomplete and submitted late, and thus did not score high enough by the city's standards to be funded, according to Kattie Bond , director of the city's Department of Neighborhoods.

For the district to be established, a collection of signatures on a petition must represent 60 percent of the frontage, or the part of the property that is adjacent to the public right of way, within the proposed area. Or it would require signatures from 75 percent of property owners within the boundaries of the district.

The petition would need to be approved by the city of Toledo.

Jackie Kropaczewski , a co-leader of Block Watch 422A, said she was undecided on the proposal after hearing the presentation.

"I like the idea of everyone in East Toledo coming together, but I'm not sure about the money," she said.

Sherry Stella said she thought the proposal needed to take "more community input" into account.

Gail Wahl, leader of the Victorian Hilltop coalition, an activist group in the area, said she "wasn't buying the proposal.

"I don't feel like residents can afford it," she said.

Mr. Peebles said there would be another meeting soon, but no date has been set.

Manny Martinez said he would pay the $75, but he wanted to start the beautification process on the outskirts of East Toledo and move inward.

"I'll pay the $75 because I want my kids to live in a good neighborhood," he said.

Mr. Steingraber said he was happy with the meeting's attendance, but he felt there was too much "misinformation" about the program, and felt that having smaller meetings with local Block Watch groups might be a solution.

"We're not going to give up; we're just going to rethink it," he said.

Mr. Peebles said he felt encouraged by the meeting.

"The questions that were asked will make us evaluate more of our plan and our proposal.

"I need to sit down and discuss my thoughts with other individuals who have been involved with the process to try to determine what we need to modify," he said.



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