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Published: 3/12/2013 - Updated: 1 year ago

Mayor wants funds shifted to pay for autos

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The Bell administration is proposing to clean up several years of accounting errors and, in the process, quell a potential state auditor’s investigation regarding the controversial purchase of two sport utility vehicles that cost taxpayers a combined $69,000.

Toledo City Council today will review a request to transfer $437,646 from the city’s general fund to what is known as “Fund 7087” for reimbursement of vehicles purchased from 2004 until the present.

City Finance Director Patrick McLean said the move is an “accounting adjustment” based on a request from council to review a decade’s worth of purchases.

Mr. McLean said the $437,646 will come from the expected 2012 general fund surplus, which he declined to estimate.

But Councilman D. Michael Collins, who along with Councilman George Sarantou questioned the purchases last year of a 2013 Chevy Tahoe and a 2011 GMC Terrain that cost taxpayers, said the request was an affirmation that the vehicles were purchased improperly.

“This is a sly way of saying, ‘You caught me and we are going to fix it on paper before the auditors come in and say we were not appropriately handling the money,’ ” Mr. Collins said. The vehicles are used by the mayor and his staff during the workday.

Mr. Sarantou also questioned the motive behind the legislation.

“My understanding is they are saying they purchased vehicles in the past when they should have taken the money out of the vehicle replacement fund but they didn’t,” he said. “Hence they have to clean it up.”

Council authorized $3.75 million in 2010 and $3.25 million in 2011 for “replacement vehicles” for the public service department and the streets departments. The SUVs were purchased under those authorizations.

“I ask why they were using streets money — assessed money — to buy vehicles for the mayor’s office,” Mr. Sarantou said. “It would seem to me what they are trying to do now is they discovered they took money out of the wrong account and they are reallocating it.”

Mr. Sarantou said council was misled on the purchase of those SUVs.

The proposed money shift would also clean up the purchases of other vehicles, Mr. McLean said.

The legislation says the $437,646 total is primarily because of the purchase of police vehicles in 2004 and 2005.

“The funding source is still that capital improvements fund, but that fund needs to be covered. That is the nature of that fund. It’s a change-back fund in effect,” Mr. McLean said. “We believe this will satisfy any audit questions about these issues, and we think this will be the appropriate remedy.”

Contact Ignazio Messina at: imessina@theblade.com or 419-724-6171.



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