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Published: Wednesday, 3/23/2005

Gerken unveils panel to size up levy requests

BY DALE EMcH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Lucas County Commissioner Pete Gerken plans today to announce the formation of a citizens' group that will review countywide tax levy requests before they reach the commissioners.

The plan calls for the creation of a nine-member board that will hear levy pitches by county agencies and make recommendations to the commissioners.

The commissioners have the final say on whether most countywide levy requests go on the ballot.

The review committee's recommendations won't be binding on the commissioners, but Mr. Gerken said it will provide an opportunity for more community input.

"I think it helps voters make up their mind prior to [levy requests] even going on the ballot when agencies can make their case for how they're accountable, how they're effective, and what their outcomes are," he said. "Actually, I see it as a benefit for those groups that are coming to us."

Commissioner Maggie Thurber said she doesn't understand why Mr. Gerken is announcing the formation of the group before presenting the idea to all the commissioners in a public forum.

She also questioned whether the group is needed, saying it's the job of the commissioners to make decisions on levy requests. Nonetheless, she said she'd review recommendations from the citizens group. "I want citizen involvement, but I don't want to abdicate my responsibilities to them," Ms. Thurber said.

Tina Skeldon Wozniak, president of the commissioners, said she supports the creation of a tax-review group. She said she thinks it will help the public get more information about levy requests. "I like the idea of allowing citizens to have more input and ask more questions about levy dollars that are being asked of our community," she said.

Most levy requests are approved by the commissioners. In 2003, questioning led by Commissioner Thurber caused Lucas County Children Services to revamp its levy request from 1.25-mill renewal to a new 1-mill levy. Ultimately, though, the impact on taxpayers was marginal - 10 cents a year to the owner of a $100,000 home.

Dean Sparks, executive director of Children Services, said the new review committee will be one more pitch he'll have to make. He said he'll now have to convince his own board, the commissioners' review group, and, finally, the commissioners.

He also presents information about levy requests to the Toledo Area Chamber of Commerce on a voluntary basis.

He said his agency's books and levy requests are always open to the public, but hopes the new review committee's process won't become too time-consuming.

"For an administrator, these things take a lot of time and energy," Mr. Sparks said. "If all of these groups want the same information, that's much better, as long as I don't have to put together different information for each group."

Contact Dale Emch at:

daleemch@theblade.com

or 419-724-6061.



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