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Published: Monday, 3/31/2014 - Updated: 6 months ago

COLLINS’ 1ST AS MAYOR

City council approves 2014 budget

Deals fund pools, rent

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER

A majority of Toledo City Council stamped its approval Monday on the city’s 2014 budget with a series of last-minute maneuvers to fund some city pools this summer, pay for an unexpected rent hike from the state of Ohio at One Government Center, and identify alternative funding for homeless shelters.

Council voted 11-1 to approve the general fund budget, which Mayor D. Michael Collins largely inherited from former Mayor Mike Bell, but changed slightly before labeling it as his own annual spending plan. Councilman Theresa Gabriel, a political independent, cast the lone no vote.

Ms. Gabriel said she opposed the city’s heavy reliance on Toledo’s capital-improvements budget to balance general-fund operations like police and fire.

“Taking CIP funds to balance the budget for general-fund operations is something I campaigned against, and I was not going back on my word,” Ms. Gabriel said.

Monday marked the first time since 2006 that council took budget deliberations down to the wire — voting on the last day permitted by city charter. Without approval of a budget by March 31, city business essentially would stop today.

Mayor Collins admitted it was his fault for not providing councilmen written details on his plan to fund pools when the panel met on March 25 to consider the budget.

Council pushed the vote to Monday because of the pools’ funding issue and also after Mayor Collins reported a $418,000 surplus in his proposed budget had been tapped out by unexpected expenses.

Before voting on the budget Monday, council unanimously agreed on an amendment offered by Councilman Rob Ludeman to sock that $418,000 away in the city's budget stabilization fund with the intent of letting the mayor use it to pay rent increases with council authorization.

The mayor had suggested covering unexpected rent costs at One Government Center with savings from the Toledo Municipal Court budget. He identified $469,395 in nondepartmental expenditures and $51,395 from holding a court reporter position vacant. That amendment was dropped since council approved Mr. Ludeman’s amendment.

The surplus was a point of contention last week.

The proposed 2014 general-fund budget released Feb. 14 showed the $418,000 surplus. Councilman Jack Ford last week tried to dedicate $140,000 of that general fund money for homeless shelters while Councilmen Steven Steel and Lindsay Webb wanted to spend $20,000 of it on art murals. The mayor objected, saying the surplus has been eroded by unexpected expenses, such as unpaid rent bills in One Government Center for the second half of 2013 and $41,650 in unpaid Lucas County Canine Care & Control 2013 overtime bills.

Mr. Ford’s budget amendment would have dedicated $5,000 to Toledo/​Lucas 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.

The homeless shelter worries were put to rest, and Mr. Ford’s amendment withdrawn, when Mayor Collins announced the Lucas County commissioners had agreed to allocate $75,000 for city homeless shelters, although they have not yet voted to approve the money.

“There has been a flurry of changes made over the weekend, notably the $75,000 to the homeless issue brought by the county — and they should be commended,” Mr. Ford said.

Mr. Ford said council would later allocate up to $10,000 for Family House shelter to buy a commercial stove and $5,000 for CareNet. That cash will be taken from the city’s $50,000 “Eye Citizen” program, which sends people mobile text alerts regarding 911 calls.

Ms. Webb also pulled her art mural funding request.

Mayor Collins said the general-fund surplus did not technically 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 leaves a $13.6 million deficit.

The mayor’s claim last week about the deficit puzzled councilmen who pointed out correctly that his budget released Feb. 14 — and an amended budget document dated March 25 — both showed the same amount designated for total general fund expenses: $244,865,467.

Complicating the budget vote last week was an email sent 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 March 25 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.

The mayor Monday offered to slash the police department salary and benefits funding by $266,199 to fund opening four pools and the splash pad at Savage Park this summer. Those savings come from the loss of seven police cadets who will not graduate this month.

Council approved that plan for the pools with a 10-1 vote. Councilman Tom Waniewski voted against, and Mr. Ludeman abstained.

The mayor had originally released a spending plan with no money for pools.

The current funding idea is the third released after a majority of councilmen riled against keeping all pools closed. The mayor subsequently said he would open some public swimming pools by using money from assets seized by police — including drug money. After deciding the city might not be allowed to use that money for anything other than law enforcement, the Collins’ administration decided to instead use that money for police uniforms — thus freeing up the clothing budget to pay for pools. That plan too was scrapped Friday when Mayor Collins said he would cut the salaries and benefits line item for police since seven cadets had washed out of the academy.

Council overwhelmingly rejected an idea from Councilman Mike Craig to slash 0.1 percent of spending from every city department. That would have cut another $244,865 from 2014 spending.

Council President Paula Hicks-Hudson said it would have caused unintended consequences.

Only Mr. Craig and Mr. Steel voted in favor of that amendment.

The 2014 budget retains the expectation to collect $165.24 million from the 2.25-percent income tax this year even though 2013 collections were lower. The income tax is the largest source of revenue for the city’s general fund. Police and fire operation eat up the majority of that budget.

The city expected to come up short on money collected from 2013 income taxes, but the shortfall was worse than expected.

The Bell administration wrote the city’s 2013 spending plan expecting to collect $163.9 million though Dec. 31, 2013 — which would have been a 3.3-percent increase over 2012. The 2013 income tax expectation was downgraded to $160 million, but the city still only collected $158.7 million last year.

Ms. Gabriel said Mayor Collins’ estimate for 2014 income tax collections is over-inflated.

David Black and Oleg Smirnov, two University of Toledo professors hired to forecast the city’s financial health, predicted the payroll tax would generate between $156.08 million and $159.5 million this year.

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



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