What appears at face value to be a simple budgetary shell game is unfolding into a political showdown among Toledo Mayor Mike Bell, Police Chief Derrick Diggs, and a city councilman known both for clashing with the administration and for his sympathy for cops.
Caught in the middle is the Police Athletic League, a program hailed for its effectiveness at keeping many of Toledo’s at-risk youth from running afoul of the law. With a motto of “Filling playgrounds, not prisons,” PAL offers boxing, volleyball, and baseball — as well as other sports and counseling — while engaging the services of police officers and civilian coaches.
Mayor Bell and his administration, which includes Chief Diggs, want City Council to allocate $250,000 for improvements to the former Leverette Middle School’s gymnasium at 1111 Manhattan Blvd. The building would receive new gas and water lines, a furnace, and other utility work.
Toledo Public Schools honored the city’s request to keep the gym intact when the school district demolished the rest of the middle school late last year. The city, which eventually hopes to buy the site, is in the second year of a five-year contract to rent the gym and locker rooms for a mere $1 a year, Deputy Mayor Steve Herwat said.
At issue is how much the city should invest in a facility it doesn’t own, according to D. Michael Collins, former president of the Toledo Police Patrolman’s Association and a PAL supporter.
Mr. Collins is one of several councilmen who question a proposal Chief Diggs has made, on behalf of the Bell administration, to use money from the city’s parkland replacement fund instead of dollars dedicated to law enforcement activities.
The request, tabled Tuesday, is to come up again when the council reconvenes April 16.
“Oh, they’re pissed at me,” Mr. Collins smirked at the conclusion of Tuesday’s council meeting. “It’s all politics.”
Mr. Collins and others believe recreation money should not be raided for a police-sponsored program because Toledo struggles to maintain parks and recreation programs for the city at large.
Voters rejected a 10-year levy request for parks and recreation in November that would have generated about $3 million a year for recreation programs that two other councilmen, Lindsey Webb and Steven Steel, said were badly needed.
Parks and recreation programs, Mr. Collins noted, do not have as much political clout as law enforcement programs.
By tapping into the parkland fund, the police department could save its law enforcement trust fund for other law enforcement expenses.
The parkland fund was created in the 1960s as a mitigation bank when Toledo’s freeway system was developed. Money was banked for future land that could be purchased and used for parks to make up for some of the land taken out of use by roads.
A $250,000 allocation would drain half the city’s parkland replacement fund, which now has about $500,000.
The law enforcement trust fund comprises revenue from property that has been seized or forfeited as a result of drug busts and other criminal activity. Much of it is obtained through state and federal court proceedings.
That fund has $746,831, but only the $323,329 portion obtained in state courts may be used for this project. The remaining $423,502 cannot be used for Leverette renovations because of federal regulations prohibiting the use of federal funding for capital improvements of leased facilities.
The Bell administration set its eyes on the parkland fund because it is not sure state auditors would allow any money from the law enforcement fund to be used on Leverette improvements, Mr. Herwat said.
Adam Loukx, Toledo’s law director, told the council Tuesday it’s a fine line. State money from the law enforcement fund probably could be used, but only with Chief Diggs’ support, he said.
Chief Diggs told councilmen he would be reluctant to do that. He repeated during a subsequent interview that law enforcement trust fund money should be used for police operations, not capital improvements.
Some $50,000 from the trust fund was used to help refurbish a building in Ottawa Park which opened in 2011 as the Toledo Police Museum. But the city owns that property, Chief Diggs noted.
Mr. Bell’s spokesman, Jen Sorgenfrei, also said the administration does not want to use any law enforcement trust fund money to rehabilitate property it doesn’t own.
The Police Athletic League’s future would require a change of heart from the administration if council authorizes only state money from the law enforcement fund for the Leverette project.
“It would be up to Chief Diggs to decide if he wants to kill the Police Athletic League,” Mr. Collins said.
Mr. Collins is chairman of the city’s public safety committee. He has a long history with the police department, but said he will not budge on this request because he doesn’t want parkland money used to improve a leased building.
He said he is “willing to go halfway” and let the police department use its own funds for the PAL program.
“They’re resisting it because they don’t own the property and there’s a reality curve here,” Mr. Collins said.
Contact Tom Henry at: email@example.com or 419-724-6079.