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Wednesday, July 23, 2014
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Published: Thursday, 3/27/2014 - Updated: 3 months ago

Mayor’s team pulls switch, uses clothing funds for pools

Money taken from account meant to buy police uniforms

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Having determined that it would be inappropriate to try to keep Toledo’s public swimming pools open by using money from assets seized by police, the administration of Mayor D. Michael Collins has decided to use that money for police uniforms — thus freeing up the clothing budget to pay for pools.

City spokesman Lisa Ward described on Wednesday how the four pools and a “splash pad” would be kept open this year after Mayor Collins included no funding for them in his initial 2014 budget proposal. The announcement came a day after city council deferred acting on an updated version of the budget until Monday night — the statutory deadline for approval.

Council pushed its vote back after Mayor Collins reported that a $418,000 surplus in his proposed budget had since been tapped out by unexpected expenses, including unbudgeted rent for Toledo’s office space at One Government Center and an overtime bill from Lucas County Canine Care & Control. It will be the first time since 2006 for council to take its budget deliberations down to the wire.

“A promise to amend the budget later is insufficient,” said Councilman Lindsay Webb, who was vexed the mayor’s plan doesn’t include opening a North Toledo pool.

After including money for no pools at all in his first draft, the mayor proposed early this month that Toledo payouts from the Law Enforcement Trust Fund, which is money obtained by police from seizures of property, cash, and other tangible items, be funneled into recreation accounts used to pay for pool operations.

But Ms. Ward said on Wednesday that a consensus had developed that such use of forfeited-assets funding wouldn’t be legal. Instead, the mayor now proposes taking $254,383 out of the uniforms line in the $244 million general-fund budget to use for pools. Trust-fund money then would be substituted to buy the uniforms.

City Finance Director George Sarantou said council and the public would have answers and formal amendments to the budget by Friday.

“There will not be a surplus. The intent of the $418,000 was to have an insurance policy for unexpected expenses,” Mr. Sarantou said, and the city already needs to cash out that insurance policy.

Neither the 2014 budget proposed in November by former Mayor Mike Bell nor the revised budget offered in February by Mayor Collins included money for six months of the city’s rent at One Government Center. That will cost about $470,000, and the state of Ohio is asking for a retroactive increase, so that number could increase, officials said.

Mr. Sarantou said the Collins’ administration was handed a $41,650 bill “several days ago” from Lucas County Canine Care & Control for 2013 overtime costs. That expense also was not included in the budget.

“So we will explain all of that and why there is not a surplus,” he said.

Councilman Jack Ford wanted to dedicate $140,000 of that surplus to supplement homeless shelters, which have had steady decreases in federal funding.

Mr. Ford said he assumed the mayor would erase the surplus from the budget with a new budget document handed over to council Friday for approval. But council could still make adjustments during its special meeting scheduled for Monday.

Several councilmen, including Steven Steel and Tom Waniewski, said they would have voted against the budget had it come to a vote Tuesday.

“I don't think it's ready,” Mr. Steel said. “I was very much on the fence and I wanted to ask what the revenue projections are based on, but I didn't know about the expenditure side was widely out-of-whack.”

Both councilmen said Mayor Collins’ estimate for 2014 income tax collections of $165.24 million is unrealistic and over-inflated. Ms. Ward said the estimate would not be lowered.

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



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