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Published: Thursday, 10/6/2005

Sarantou spells out Toledo's challenges

BY VANESSA WINANS
BLADE STAFF WRITER

A sit-down with George Sarantou almost requires a seat belt. You don't even need to ask the Toledo council at-large candidate why he's running before he's off and running.

Seated in his downtown office, Mr. Sarantou quickly spells out the challenges facing the city: the economy, money in general, and the citizenry's lack of pride in Toledo.

The 53-year-old Republican was elected to council four years ago and has chaired the council finance and budget committee for the last three. After the flush times of the 1990s, these last several lean years have proven educational in terms of managing a multimillion dollar budget.

"Starting in tough economic times, you learn to say no and you learn how to find money," he says. "It can make you a better government official because you're aware of the realities."

It also forces one to set priorities, he adds. When layoffs among emergency workers looked likely last fall, the finance committee combed through the budget to find other cuts instead. "The last thing I wanted to do was have police and fire lay-offs," he says, citing the need for public safety.

A major issue facing Toledo is the high cost of utilities, he says, with electricity and natural gas costs higher here than in Columbus, Cincinnati, or Dayton.

"It affects all income levels" and can put off companies eyeing the area as a potential place to relocate, he says. "From an economic development aspect, that really hurts."

Other conflicts come when considering zoning and planning requests, which he calls "one of the most difficult parts" of the job. An apartment complex for University of Toledo students caused a schism in the Westwood Avenue and Dorr Street area.

"You've got neighbors who don't want to see change in their neighborhood," he say. "Other wanted to get the students out of the neighborhood and into an apartment building."

He weighed the options, and ultimately voted to approve the apartment building.

"That is an example of how you can't please both parties," he says, with a shake of his head.

As for other cities Toledo might use as a redevelopment model, Akron shines, he says. Like many industrial cities, Akron watched many of its economic mainstays shut down or leave in the 1970s and '80s. But unlike Youngstown, which found itself in a similar scenario, Akron "turned it around. Its unemployment is lower than Toledo's, and their downtown is nice. They've changed their manufacturing ideas, they've gone high-tech," a course Toledo should follow too.

A more insidious problem facing Toledo is the city's own mindset.

"One of the biggest obstacles is Toledoans' low self-esteem about Toledo," he says. "We have our challenges, [but] we have a lot of good things going for us."

He hopes to be part of a larger plan to revitalize the city. "We need to plot a strategy and go for it," he says.

"Our best days are still ahead of us," he adds. "I really believe that."

Contact Vanessa Winans at:

vwinans@theblade.com

or 419-724-6168.



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