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The candidates for mayor of Toledo went over familiar ground in a forum Sunday in West Toledo: Which of them is more opposed to raising taxes?
Independent Mike Bell and endorsed Democrat Keith Wilkowski also debated the role of party affiliation in front of a crowd of about 40 in the Blessed Sacrament/Close Park Neighborhood Center.
Mr. Wilkowski said the next mayor should offer a strategy aimed at growing the city out of its budget crisis without raising taxes.
"If someone tells you that no, no, no, we're going to have to cut these services and force upon you a tax increase, that's somebody who's not looking at doing things a third way," Mr. Wilkowski said.
Mr. Bell interrupted Mr. Wilkowski to suggest that Mr. Wilkowski was referring to him as supporting a tax increase.
Mr. Bell said he has heard the voters "loud and clear - you want us to play inside the perimeter," meaning within the 2.25 percent income tax the city collects, and said he was committed to doing that as mayor. But he said the voters may feel differently if services are slashed as a result.
Mr. Bell emphasized that he is committed to collaboration to work out problems, including how to deal with city employee union contracts that have become a burden to the budget.
"The problem now is we have a recession that has not stopped in our city. We can't blame the employees. What we have to do is figure out how does everybody become part of the solution," Mr. Bell said.
Mr. Wilkowski said he would negotiate employee contracts that are within the city's means, as well as use technology and intergovernmental agreements.
"Mike has supported these contracts we cannot afford," Mr. Wilkowski said.
In response to a question about political party affiliation, Mr. Bell said he decided to run as an independent because he would be more successful in reaching out regionally on behalf of Toledo.
"We have 'D's and 'R's and 'I's throughout the four-county region. I felt that running as an independent at least there's somebody in the middle bringing both sides to the table," he said.
Mr. Wilkowski said his Democratic registration wasn't an obstacle when he worked out tax-sharing agreements as city law director that produce $1 million a year in taxes for Toledo.
"Nobody walks into the office of the mayor of Sylvania and has a conflict because of their party affiliation. We've had mayors, unfortunately, whose personalities have not lent themselves to being able to work with people," Mr. Wilkowski said.
Asked to identify "core strengths," Mr. Wilkowski named his curiosity, which he said drives him to seek better ways of doing things. Mr. Bell said his core strength is that he is "a team builder."
In discussing economic development, Mr. Wilkow-
ski said he would have a plan that emphasizes manufacturing, transportation, and construction.
He said a high-speed-rail hub would create 900 jobs, and municipal backing of "green collar" jobs would form an economy that "the entire country will be envious of."
Mr. Bell especially said he would try to remove barriers to business and said he would emphasize small businesses that employ fewer than 200 people. He said a good benchmark for economic development would be growth of 1,000 jobs a year.
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