D. Michael Collins, center, and Mayor Mike Bell answer questions posed to them during ONE Village Council mayoral candidate forum at the Chester Zablocki Senior Center in Toledo, Ohio on Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2013.
The Blade/Lori King
Toledo’s two mayoral candidates, Mayor Mike Bell and Councilman D. Michael Collins, gave identical yes or no answers to the seven questions posed by a struggling North Toledo neighborhood organization in a well-attended forum tonight.
Yet, they again showcased their disagreements over the city's budget crisis of 2010 and whether Toledo's police department has fallen behind or made gains in staffing.
The One Village Council, representing the old Lagrange and Vistula neighborhoods of North Toledo, hosted the 40-minute forum that was attended by about 100 people inside the Chester Zablocki Senior Center.
The candidates promised to pay attention to the village council’s requests, such as to remove overgrown trees, plow snow promptly, pave streets, and attend semi-annual meetings.
But they both refused to give their assent to a tough new vacant housing law like one enacted earlier this year in Youngstown. That law requires banks that own foreclosed properties to put up a $10,000 fund to pay for repairs, maintenance, and demolition, if need be, on vacant and abandoned houses, as well as pay a $100 annual registration fee.
The neighborhood council made it clear they want a tough ordinance like the one in Youngstown to deal with the vacant dwellings scattered around the old north end.
A vacant house in Youngstown is any dwelling that is unoccupied longer than six months.
Mr. Bell and Mr. Collins said Toledo’s vacant housing registry, which has a $200 annual registration fee, is working well, in conjunction with the Lucas County Land Bank and other providers.
“We’ve tried to be user-friendly in how we motivate people to take care of properties,” Mr. Bell said. “We have a large stock of houses we’re trying to deal with. We’re getting to them as quickly as we can.”
Mr. Collins said Youngstown was facing a more desperate situation than Toledo.
“It’s not the same set of circumstances. Youngstown went through a severe problem. There’s neighborhoods [in Youngstown] completely eradicated from needing sewers, water supply, everything,” Mr. Collins said.
In response to a question, the two men disputed again over the crisis that faced Toledo in 2010.
Mayor Bell said he used the leverage of “exigent circumstances” - the power to make unilateral cuts in negotiated contracts - to force city unions to bargain and to avoid laying off 271 employees and to stave off a $48 million deficit.
"Guess what, it worked. I took a beating but it worked, and it didn’t cost you any extra money," Mr. Bell said. "I was told, Mayor Bell, do not raise our taxes, and give us the same standard of service. It was about protecting your bottom line."
Mr. Collins stuck to his point, despite an investigation by The Blade verifying the $48 million deficit existed, that the legal deficit facing the city in 2010 was $8.6 million, and that the Bell administration ended 2010 with a $9.6 million deficit.
"We can talk about deficits till doomsday. I don't think there's anything productive about worrying about [it]. What I worry about is where we’re going to be in 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018. I want to know where the city’s going to be four years after either the incumbent or the new mayor takes office," Mr. Collins said.
They also disagreed about police, with Mr. Bell saying he hired 190 officers to make up for the lack of hiring in previous administrations, and Mr. Collins saying the police force is still 15 officers lower in number than it was when Mr. Bell took office, and that he would implement a "beat integrity" system to have police accountable for neighborhoods they police.