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Published: Monday, 7/9/2007

Some on council upset with budget planning

BY ROBIN ERB
BLADE STAFF WRITER
City councilmen Frank Szollosi, left, and Joe McNamara held a news conference with other councilmen and candidates who are seeking a charter amendment that would require the mayor to submit to council a balanced budget. City councilmen Frank Szollosi, left, and Joe McNamara held a news conference with other councilmen and candidates who are seeking a charter amendment that would require the mayor to submit to council a balanced budget.
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It's an itty-bitty line among a countless thousand of others in the city's inch-thick general operating fund budget, and the issue it raises has been tangled up in talk about strippers, political bickering, and a near-illegal meeting.

But on Tuesday, Toledo City Council might finally tackle the question: Should the mayor be forced - by a change in the city's charter - to send to council a balanced budget each year?

Absolutely, said Councilman Frank Szollosi, who introduced the balanced-budget amendment.

In November, the mayor sent to council the city's $241.7 million budget.

On page 33 of the 329-page volume was a $10.6 million figure and the words "other reimbursements."

District 5 Councilman Ellen Grachek is among city councilmen calling for a charter amendment that would require the mayor to submit a balanced budget for approval. District 5 Councilman Ellen Grachek is among city councilmen calling for a charter amendment that would require the mayor to submit a balanced budget for approval.
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Translation: Budget cuts.

That left it up to council to "do all the heavy lifting" by deciding how to slice the whopping $10.6 million from the budget, Mr. Szollosi complained during an afternoon news conference.

Worse, councilmen asked the Finkbeiner administration for detailed budget information and proposed cuts, but it didn't come until weeks later, he said.

With a looming March 31 deadline, it took everything from city employees' pink slips to garbage pick-up fees to shuttered city pools to bring the budget in line again.

"We were frustrated this past winter. I know I speak for all [council] members when we weren't getting the kind of detail from the administration that we wanted in our budget," Mr. Szollosi said.

The delay, he said, "put council behind the eight-ball."

Calls to Mayor Carty Finkbeiner yesterday went unanswered.

But Brian Schwartz, the mayor's spokesman, sees it differently.

To him, leaving the $10.6 million budget gap wide open in November's proposed budget rather than suggesting specific cuts invited a partnership with council in figuring out how to balance the budget.

Council candidate Ed Cichy, left, Councilman Frank Szollosi, council candidate Marty Skeldon, and Councilmen Joe McNamara and Mike Craig want the mayor to balance the city s budget. Council candidate Ed Cichy, left, Councilman Frank Szollosi, council candidate Marty Skeldon, and Councilmen Joe McNamara and Mike Craig want the mayor to balance the city s budget.
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That's why the mayor met several times with council members over several months last winter to brainstorm budget ideas, Mr. Schwartz said.

"The idea is to bring council into the process," he said.

The proposed balanced-budget amendment, introduced in the spring, had been sent to the Toledo Charter Revision Committee for its input. The citizens' panel is chaired by John Irish, appointed to the position by the mayor.

The committee's planned meeting Thursday ended in a legal hassle and an ugly confrontation.

Because the 24-hour notice required by law wasn't given, no business could be conducted. And the gathering erupted in a loud exchange between Councilman Joe McNamara and Mr. Irish, who also chairs the county's Democratic Party.

Mr. McNamara wants the city charter to also require the city place the budget online for citizen input and he arrived at the meeting saying he was prepared to talk about the proposed amendments.

But before he left, he called for Mr. Irish's resignation in light of recent Democratic fund-raiser last month that included strippers.

Then on Saturday, Mr. McNamara held a news conference challenging Mr. Finkbeiner to join him in calling for Mr. Irish's resignation.

But when it comes to the balanced-budget amendment, it will be the taxpayers who have the ultimate say.

Tweaking the city charter requires council to send the amendment to a ballot, and that's one of the reasons why the issue has been stalled so far.

Though Mr. Szollosi introduced the amendment in the spring, it had been intentionally delayed so that its passage didn't trigger a costly special election in September. By waiting until now, the issue may be placed on November's general election ballot if council approves it.

Council President Rob Ludeman said he will propose Tuesday that the amendment be sent to the committee-of-the-whole for further discussion, but Mr. Szollosi and Mr. McNamara, who were joined at the news conference by Councilmen Ellen Grachek and Mike Craig, said they will ask that the issue be put on the ballot immediately.

Ms. Grachek noted that the amendment has been discussed in the law and criminal justice committee.

It would take eight votes to place the amendment on November's ballot.

Contact Robin Erb at:

robinerb@theblade.com

or 419-724-6133



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