Toledo mayoral candidates from left, Mike Bell, Sandy Spang, and Mike Ferner, talk with Blade reporters Keith Burris, Marlene Harris-Taylor and Ignazio Messina, during a "Conversation with the Candidates," today at the University of Toledo.
The first of two “Conversations with the Candidates” has wrapped up, with the second about to begin.
A trio of mayoral candidates were interviewed about city spending, property sales, and the crime rate by The Blade and the University of Toledo at UT’s Rocket Hall. Mike Bell, Mike Ferner, and Sandy Spang were asked questions in the first forum.
Starting at 3:10 p.m., Mayor Paula Hicks-Hudson, former Mayor Carty Finkbeiner, and Sandy Draik-Collins will be interviewed.
The interviews are being live-streamed here on toledoblade.com, and is also shown live on Buckeye Channel 69.
The first question in the early debate regarded the candidates’ tax and spending policies.
Former Mayor Mike Bell said that he opposed tax increases during his term to fill the operating budget deficit, but that repairing the city’s infrastructure requires a dedicated funding source. He proposed increasing the city’s 0.75 percent income tax to 1 percent, and by ending the transfer of capital funding to the operating budget.
He said that those moves would bring in $30 million more in revenue for streets and other infrastructure.
Mr. Ferner agreed that funding fixes to infrastructure cannot wait for action by the federal or state government, but also criticized the reductions in state aid for cities.
“A lot of the income that should be going to this household called Toledo is being hijacked,” he said.
Ms. Spang said that her plan involved moving toward priority-based budgeting, and that the city’s current budgeting process makes it unclear what is actually needed financially to run the city. She said that process would happen before Mr. Bell’s plan to increase taxes would happen, and she’d have an opportunity to see if there was fat in the budget.
“By then I'll have already gone through one priority-based budget,” she said.
Ms. Spang was then asked about her campaign statement that the city may need to buy back the Marina District, which Mr. Bell had sold to Dashing Pacific, a group of Chinese investors.
She said that Mr. Bell’s claim that a one-time asset sale saved city jobs was “disingenuous,” because ongoing costs remained while the city no longer had what she called an “incredibly important community asset.”
“I don't believe I would have ever sold that piece of property,” she said.
Mr. Bell, meanwhile, criticized the city - and Ms. Spang by association - with recent land purchases such as the former Southwyck mall site and land related to a hoped-for Jeep plant expansion. Those properties now are no longer on the tax rolls, while the Marina District is, he said.
“Which is a better deal?" he said.
Mr. Ferner agreed with Mr. Spang over the riverfront property’s value and said it should be in the public domain, but said he wasn’t sure if there was money to repurchase it. Part of it, he said, could become a public park, a reference to his opposition to using part of Promenade Park for a parking garage for a new ProMedica headquarters.
”I would hate to see us do on that side of the river what we've done on the downtown side, which is basically give the whole riverfront away to commerce and industry,“ he said.
A question from a reader was whether, if elected, the candidates would reduce the mayor’s salary to $100,000. Mr. Ferner said he would cut his own pay, in part to pay an organizer to develop national change.
Ms. Spang and Mr. Bell were less enthusiastic with the idea. Ms. Spang opposed it, saying cutting the position’s pay would reduce the talent pool. Mr. Bell said that he might cut his own pay, but asked to what end, how far it should ultimately be cut, and whether all city employees would also have their pay cut.
The candidates have also been asked about how they would address increased heroin usage in the area, tackle the city’s crime rate, and what kind of administrative staff members they would hire.
Ms. Spang said the city could be an ”incubator city,“ where young, talented employees can start out and then move to larger cities. Mr. Bell, while saying that he has young people on his campaign staff, cautioned that the city is a large operation.
”It is not kids’ play,“ he said.
Mr. Ferner said a city with a ”clear, progressive vision“ would draw young, talented people into public service.
The forums will be replayed on the cable access channel at 9 p.m.
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