Drivers who run red lights in Toledo could help finance the city's recreation programs, under a proposal announced Tuesday by Mayor Mike Bell's administration.
Finance Director Patrick McLean told Toledo City Council members the city wants to expand its red-light camera program to 11 additional intersections by May, adding to more than 30 already in operation. The new cameras would generate about $320,000 this year, enough to plug a shortfall for recreation in the 2012 budget, he said.
The cameras also would generate recreation program revenue into the future, the finance director indicated. He did not have information Tuesday on where the new devices would be located.
"There's two reasons why we think it's a good idea. Number one, there's safety factors," Mr. McLean said, alluding to studies that he said show such cameras result in fewer accidents and fewer drivers running red lights. "The second reason is, frankly, it is a source of revenue."
Toledo's recreation programming has teetered on the brink of extinction since Mayor Bell unveiled his 2012 budget proposal in November. The proposal slashed funding for the recreation department by close to a third. That threatened to shut down leisure offerings such as public swimming pools, the Ottawa Park Ice Rink, T-ball, boxing, and the Toledo Umpire Association.
The recreation department's operational budget in 2011 was about $900,000.
"There was an outcry from the community," Councilman Steven Steel said, recalling the reaction to the proposed funding cuts.
Mr. Steel, who chairs council's recreation committee, said he still has questions about the red-light proposal and wants to see the amended budget before he can support the plan. But he applauded the administration for trying to come up with a solution for the recreation department.
"I'm glad the administration heard that outcry and at least took a second look," he said.
Red-light cameras have been a source of controversy since their introduction in the 1990s. The first cameras were installed in Toledo in September, 2001. Critics argue the cameras are a violation of privacy and serve mainly to bolster the coffers of state and local governments. Proponents counter the cameras help curb traffic accidents and lead to safer roads.
Council President Joe McNamara Tuesday sided with the second outlook. He, too, applauded Toledo officials for addressing the recreation department's woes.
"It's new revenue coming in to fund a very, very tight budget," he said. "I'm glad the administration is thinking about the concerns of council and working to create a budget we can live with."
In another major budgetary revision, Mr. McLean said Tuesday the city hopes to introduce a new class of police officers earlier in the year, instead of in December, as originally proposed. Details have yet to be finalized but will be presented to council as part of an amended budget Wednesday afternoon, the director said.
Infrastructure projects are also expected to get a boost this year. That's despite city plans to transfer millions of dollars from its capital improvements fund to pay for operating expenses. Mayor Bell's original budget proposal included a landmark $10.85 million transfer from capital improvements to the general fund.
That amount likely will increase in the amended budget proposal because Mr. McLean said the city wants to use capital improvements money to plug an estimated $1.1 million budget hole anticipated from the delayed opening of the Hollywood Casino.
The city is also proposing to use capital improvements money to save a historic bridge leading to the Owens Corning headquarters.
Nevertheless, Deputy Mayor Steve Herwat said the city plans to have a significant road resurfacing program this year. A $1 million sidewalk reconstruction program is also in the works.
Mr. McLean said the extra capital improvements expenditures will be financed through debt. He said the city's current debt payments are slated to level off in 2015, and new debt payments will be structured so they come into full force about that time.
Councilman McNamara said he supports the concept.
"It's pretty creative. I have to give Patrick McLean credit for coming up with that idea," Mr. McNamarasaid. "I want to see more roads done, citizens are upset about the state of the roads, and doing more roads creates more jobs. … In these tough economic times, I think that's good economic policy."
Contact Claudia Boyd-Barrett at: email@example.com or 419-724-6272.