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Published: Thursday, 3/20/2014 - Updated: 9 months ago

Mayor touts $244M general-fund budget

Collins defends city pay raises

BY TOM TROY
BLADE POLITICS WRITER
Collins Collins
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Mayor D. Michael Collins and his staff presented their first budget at a public meeting on Wednesday night — one with austerity but with some attention to the issues Mr. Collins campaigned on.

Mr. Collins used the word “austere” to describe the $244.8 million general-fund budget that is a fraction of a percent higher than the 2013 budget and still relies on a $14.1 million transfer from capital improvements. The administration projects ending the year with a surplus of $418,000.

Finance Director George Sarantou said 88 percent of the budget is dedicated to police, fire, courts, and jail usage, and fixed costs such as utilities and refuse collection. That leaves about 12 percent of the budget for everything else.

The general fund budget does not include water distribution, wastewater treatment, street repair, and leaf and snow collection, which are paid for through dedicated user fees, assessments, and fuel taxes.

The total proposed budget, including the general fund, is $656 million.

The budget is required to be passed by March 31.

The mayor blamed some of the austerity on the state government, which has cut revenue sharing and inheritance taxes that have helped Ohio cities in the past.

“We are using for our total financial operation $16 million fewer dollars as a result of cutbacks coming out of Columbus since 2008,” Mr. Collins said.

He said the Northwest District Police Station will open, as he promised during his campaign.

“It will be an operational and viable police presence in northwest Toledo,” Mr. Collins said.

He said the administration would reopen three pools and a splash pad in 2014 with operating funds from the police department and the Police Athletic League.

The budget also includes money for two additional code inspectors for a total of 12, part of the plan to emphasize neighborhood cleanups that Mr. Collins discussed during his 2013 campaign.

The mayor said he would start his combined police and code enforcement program in Point Place and then move to East Toledo.

“We’re going to take this city back one neighborhood at a time,” Mr. Collins said.

He criticized as “parasites” people who take value out of the property they own in the city, such as some out-of-town landlords, and put nothing back. Still, he said, citizens have a big responsibility.

“We have to have people that are going to stand up and say we’re not going to tolerate this in our neighborhood,” Mr. Collins said.

Chief of Staff Bob Reinbolt said a grant from the Lucas County Land Bank will allow the city to demolish about 600 neglected houses this year.

Jodi Gross, a “community builder” for the East Toledo Family Center who attended the meeting Wednesday, said the promise to bring the code enforcement to East Toledo before some other parts of the city shows that Mr. Collins is living up to a commitment he made at a mayoral forum during last year’s election campaign not to exclude the east side.

“He’s listened to us. I was very happy to hear that because he has said East Toledo will not be left behind,” Ms. Gross said. “I was a little disappointed there weren’t more people from the community.”

The mayor also defended the 2.5 percent pay raise given to about 800 members of American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Local 7.

“These are the people who crawl into a hole with a wrench and come out looking like human icicles because we have a water-main break. Most of us would have called in sick. They didn’t because they’re dedicated,” the mayor said. “It was fair, and I applaud city council.”

Two citizens urged the mayor to challenge the business community to come up with money for recreational activities this summer and offered help in making that happen.

In response to one question, Mr. Collins said only one person was fined for not clearing snow from a sidewalk.

City Councilman Sandy Spang said Mayor Collins has shown transparency during his budget hearings in council, which she said supports his concept of “tidy towns,” which is the mayor’s term he borrowed from relatives in Ireland for a community program to spruce up the neighborhoods.

“The way to have a tidy town is to have involved citizens,” Ms. Spang said. However, she added, “this was not a well-attended event.”

About 45 people were in the Main Library auditorium for the 90-minute presentation, about half of whom were city administrators and Toledo City Council members and candidates.

Mr. Collins said he plans no more community budget hearings in the future because of low attendance. Instead, he said he will establish an interactive budget Web site where citizens can post questions and comments online and then get a response within 48 hours.

Contact Tom Troy: tomtroy@theblade.com or 419--724-6058 or an Twitter @TomFTroy.



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