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Forestry unit protests loss of cash to city general fund

The Toledo Urban Forestry Commission wants its money back.

Some members of the commission, including the president and the treasurer, contend that a recent transfer of $54,680 from the commission's trust fund into the city's general fund was illegal. The money was transferred in April, according to city records.

“Who authorized this?” asked David Neuendorf, treasurer of the commission. “It just disappeared from our funds. When money is transferred without any paperwork it can disappear.”

The 1990 ordinance that created the Urban Forestry Commission requires that any disbursements from the fund must be based on a voucher from the commission.

But Mr. Neuendorf and commission President Dennis Lange said they were not consulted and have had difficulty getting an explanation about the transfer.

Robert Williams, assistant chief operating officer for Mayor Ford, yesterday said the money was transferred to the city's general fund to help offset a potential $16 million deficit this year. “We looked at every little nook and cranny to find the money,” Mr. Williams said. This year's budget of $224.5 million is 2 percent less than last year's budget.

The Ford administration had said it would transfer a total of $200,000 from various trust funds, but has not identified those funds. The city has 53 trust funds containing about $1.6 million.

Mr. Williams referred the question of the transfer's legality to Barbara Herring, the acting city law director. Ms. Herring said she could not answer the question without talking to the directors of finance and parks, recreation, and forestry, both of whom are out of the office this week.

Mr. Neuendorf, Mr. Lange, and Mike Young, secretary of the commission, met yesterday with Councilman Rob Ludeman, chairman of the City Council parks committee. After the meeting, Mr. Ludeman said he wants a discussion with the rest of council and the administration over how city park trust funds have been used.

He said funds have been withdrawn from other parks boards to address the city's financial crisis. The administration “should have been up front with them and with City Council,” Mr. Ludeman said.

The forestry commission collects as much as $100,000 a year as the proceeds of selling mulch produced by the city's wood-chipping machine operated at the city's wood lot at Hill Avenue and Elmdale Road.

Mr. Neuendorf said the commission helps the city's forestry division by taking an interest in the wood-chipping machine. The commission helps pay for the machine and a $2,500-a-year insurance policy on the machine, valued at $300,000.

He said the commission buys and plants seedlings, makes grants for forestry planting and research projects, and funds the annual Arbor Day festival.

The Urban Forestry Commission is one of more than 100 volunteer boards and commissions appointed by the mayor.

On Monday, Mayor Ford assigned consultant Theodore Mastroianni to review the city's boards and commissions and recommend abolishing or merging any that are obsolete or doing work performed by other agencies. Mr. Mastroianni is a Washington political and government consultant on a part-time contract with the administration.

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