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Published: Wednesday, 6/18/2008

Lucas County officials feud over spending $350,000

BY ALEX M. PARKER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

In what is becoming more the rule than the exception, the Lucas County commissioners sparred again - this time during their meeting yesterday on their competing plans to spend $350,000 in county economic development funds.

Lucas County Commissioners Tina Skeldon Wozniak and Pete Gerken voted down a plan from fellow Commissioner Ben Konop that would have used the money, which the county got from selling some of its land, to put 40 people to work part time at $7.50 an hour for local non-profit organizations.

Along with pay for the part-time positions, money also would have been spent to employ a temp hiring agency, and about $9,000 to pay for a part-time clerk to handle applications for the positions.

Mr. Konop claimed the pro-posal would have helped rejuvenate the county's economy by putting people to work while aiding needy charities.

But Ms. Wozniak and Mr. Gerken claimed it would have wasted taxpayer dollars by creating temporary, low-paying positions rather than investing in sustainable jobs through training or economic development.

Accusations of politics and corruption flew during yesterday's testy debate.

"Once again, we're putting politics ahead of progress. That's why we're seeing business loss in Lucas County," Mr. Konop said after the vote.

Ms. Wozniak, the president of the commissioners, said she'd rather see the money used for job training, and proposed giving $10,000 to Assets Toledo, a local nonprofit organization, to help train those hoping to start their own businesses.

"We need to create sustainable jobs - jobs that can last for a long time," Ms. Wozniak said.

Mr. Gerken said he would rather see the money used to support projects, such as the effort to reopen the Maumee Stamping Plant, and to fund Rocket Ventures, a venture capital fund run by the Regional Growth Partnership.

He said the idea was a "noble attempt," but would only provide a temporary benefit.

And he objected to $93,000 that would have gone to the temp agency to cover workers' compensation insurance and other employee benefits.

"Government does not create jobs," Mr. Gerken said. "Government helps create public-private partnerships."

He took exception to Mr. Konop's claim that he was voting against progress. "You don't get to have the last word and say I'm voting against seniors and families just because you had a bad idea," Mr. Gerken told Mr. Konop during the debate.

After the meeting, Mr. Gerken said he'd rather use the money as a loan to help developing local businesses.

"We don't have a trove of money to support economic development," Mr. Gerken said.

"My view is that the money is best used for an immediate and sustainable impact and for projects that return the money back [to the county] to reinvest."

In other business, the commissioners also sponsored a resolution supporting a campaign by Ohio Treasurer Richard Cordray to support lending reform legislation in Congress.

All three commissioners urged residents to sign cards expressing support for the rule change, which Mr. Cordray plans to send to the Federal Reserve Board in Washington.

Contact Alex M. Parker at:

aparker@theblade.com

or 419-724-6107.



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