VOTE DELAYED

Toledo City Council, mayor spar over city's 2014 budget

Collins: $418,000 surplus eroded by unexpected costs

3/26/2014
BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Collins
Collins

Approval of Toledo’s 2014 budget derailed Tuesday night when what was expected to be a smooth vote was delayed to the end of the month after City Council and Mayor D. Michael Collins seemingly ended their honeymoon period with a skirmish over the mayor’s proposed spending plan.

Although his proposed 2014 general-fund budget released Feb. 14 showed a $418,000 surplus, Mayor Collins told council Tuesday there was no money for an amendment offered by Councilman Jack Ford to dedicate $140,000 of general fund money for homeless shelters or a plan by Councilmen Steven Steel and Lindsay Webb to spend $20,000 on art murals.

The mayor said the surplus has been eroded by unexpected expenses, such as unpaid rent bills in One Government Center for the second half of 2013 and unpaid Lucas County Canine Care & Control 2013 overtime bills.

“The previous administration did not pay the dog warden for overtime,” Mayor Collins said. “The raise in rent is not in the budget.”

The mayor also said the general-fund surplus did not exist because the city has a “structural deficit.” For several years, the city has taken millions each year out of the capital-improvements budget to keep the general fund in the black. This year, the Collins administration proposed using $14.1 million from that fund — which pays for street repairs and other capital improvements. Mayor Collins said that essentially leaves a $13.6 million deficit.

The mayor’s claim puzzled councilmen such as Mr. Steel, who pointed out correctly that his budget released Feb. 14 and an amended budget document dated Tuesday showed the same amount designated for general fund expenses: $244,865,467.

“Yes, I read in the paper of record about the additional expenditures, but the budget handed to us did not change,” Mr. Steel said after the meeting.

Complicating the budget vote Tuesday was an email sent the previous night by Joel Mazur, the mayor’s assistant chief of staff, to councilmen promising the city will open four city pools this summer, but neither the letter nor the latest budget document indicated the source of funding.

The memo said Navarre, Pickford, Roosevelt, and Willys pools, and the splash pad at Savage park, will be open July 1 through middle to late August.

Mr. Ford said he was surprised by the mayor’s comments on the $418,000 surplus, while Mr. Steel went further and said he was “baffled.”

“This is the first time I am hearing the [$418,000] surplus wasn’t real,” Mr. Ford said to the mayor during council’s meeting. “What you are really saying is, ‘We have it, but you don’t want us to touch it.’ ”

Council President Paula Hicks-Hudson took the mayor to task for not revealing his concerns about tapping into that $418,000 during budget hearings last week. She ordered a special meeting for Monday — council’s deadline day for approving the 2014 budget.

City Spokesman Lisa Ward said the city is unsure how much its rent will be increased at One Government Center, and could not immediately provide a figure owed to the dog warden.

“We don’t know for sure how much we are looking at for rent and we just got the dollar amount for the dog warden and that’s why they weren’t calculated into that budget,” Ms. Ward said. “But the mayor’s basic premise was that his budget has a structural deficit and it could be even higher.”

Most Toledo homeless shelters are facing cuts in the federal funding allocated by the city.

Mr. Ford’s budget amendment would have dedicated $5,000 to Toledo/‚ÄčLucas County CareNet; $18,000 to Bethany House; $40,000 to Family House, and $77,000 as a reserve for homeless shelters throughout the coming fiscal year.

Mayor Collins said Mr. Ford would have to cut other spending in the general fund to supplement CareNet and the shelters with city general fund money.

“They are all deserving,” Mayor Collins said. “I am not suggesting the need is not there. … I am saying the money is not there."

Homeless-shelter funding was a key point in last year’s mayoral campaign, when Mr. Collins criticized then-Mayor Mike Bell.

Councilman Tom Waniewski said he planned to vote against the budget Tuesday. He said Mayor Collins’ estimate for 2014 income tax collections of $165.24 million is unrealistic and over-inflated.

“If you look at the last three years, the tops we got was $158 million and now we are projecting $165 million in a lukewarm year,” Mr. Waniewski said. “It’s a lot of smoke and mirrors.”

Income tax estimates are based in part by projected job growth and unemployment data.

In other business, council voted 12-0 to approve an additional $3.9 million for the city’s streets, bridges, and harbor division’s 2014 assessed operating budget for snow and ice control. The money would supplement the proposed 2014 operating budget and give the department funding for de-icing salt for the upcoming winter season.

Property owners will pay an increase in assessments two years from now of about 50 cents per front foot.

Council voted 6-6 on a controversial special-use permit Horizon Science Academy charter school wants to convert the YMCA of Greater Toledo on Summit Street in North Toledo into classrooms. Toledo Public Schools officials hope to obtain a federal grant to use the building in the Head Start program.

Voting no were councilmen Theresa Gabriel, Lindsay Webb, Matt Cherry, Mr. Ford, Ms. Hicks-Hudson, and Mr. Steel. Mayor Collins declined Tuesday to vote to break the tie. He has two weeks to cast his vote.

Council also voted 9-3 in favor of the Ohio Voter Bill of Rights initiative petition. Councilman Rob Ludeman and Mr. Waniewski, both Republicans, and Councilman Sandy Spang, an independent, voted no.

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