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Published: Sunday, 10/31/2004

Perks, pay at nonprofits spur City Council to talk of merger

By CHRISTOPHER D. KIRKPATRICK

BLADE STAFF WRITER

The Downtown Toledo Parking Authority approved the ticket purchase on Sept. 17, but eventually decided against going through with it after some City Council members questioned why a nonprofit steward of city parking spaces would need such a perk - equal to the fines collected from 230 meter violations.

Adding to the council members' irritation is the fact that parking authority President Clayton Johnston and Pete Gozza, president of Downtown Toledo Inc., another nonprofit responsible for aiding downtown development, each earn more than Jay Black, the city's chief operating officer who also is the mayor's chief of staff.

Faced with a possible $14 million budget shortfall for 2005, the salary and ticket issues have spurred a movement by some on council to merge those two nonprofits and a third - Citifest, which oversees Fourth of July and other special events - into one organization more closely supervised by the city.

A Blade review of federal tax forms showed Mr. Johnston, Mr. Gozza, and Citifest executive director Julie Champa earned a combined $282,220 in 2002, the latest year for which reports were available.

City Council President Louis Escobar, who is council's representative on the parking authority board, said council members dealing with the fiscal crisis have stopped traveling and even canceled city magazine sub-

scriptions to save money.

"We want a consolidation, so we got all the board members together, and we've basically said you have to come up with a way to consolidate," he said.

The Mud Hens tickets, in particular, bothered him and his colleagues, Mr. Escobar said.

"I find it hard to lay off police and fire and garbage workers and still be giving these huge amounts of money to the parking authority, Downtown Toledo Inc., and Citifest. It's taxpayer dollars we're giving," he said.

"If you put together the salaries, you're probably close to $300,000," said Pete Gerken, another councilman looking at the issue and a Democratic candidate for Lucas County commissioner. "I think we need to think about ways to consolidate."

Mr. Johnston and Mr. Gozza defended their nonprofits' performances - and their jobs.

Mr. Gozza said his organization has fulfilled a mission of building a downtown master plan and creating a special improvement district, which would collect a tax from downtown businesses for downtown economic development starting in 2006, he said. The plan still requires City Council approval.

"Our intent is to provide a clean and safe environment and to attract business and give downtown curb appeal," he said. "We've done everything we said we were going to do."

Mr. Johnston said his position is a "leadership" position and that his salary is in line with other parking authority directors around the country. His salary level is checked with several trade organizations, such as the International Parking Institute, he said.

The parking authority was created in 1996 to improve upon the city's poor job maintaining its three parking garages, an idea from business leaders, who now populate its board of directors. The authority also operates city parking meters.

"Look at the track record, we started as a $1.5 million agency, and it's now a $4 million-plus operation. We have focused on downtown parking and in making it an asset for development. We have our detractors, we always will," he said.

Critics point out that the parking authority contracts most of its duties to a private company to run the three parking garages. Mr. Johnston said the parking authority would take over the duties by Dec. 31 and become "self-operational."

Mayor Jack Ford was the city's highest-paid official last year at $136,000 annually. Mr. Black was paid $92,500. The salaries of Mr. Gozza and Mr. Johnston compare to the range of the city's five highest-paid employees, a review by The Blade has found. The review also found:

  • Pete Gozza was paid $120,960 in 2002 plus benefits worth $17,267, according to IRS records. Last year, he earned less, $116,640, but his benefits package cost $22,360, according to the tax agency.

  • Mr. Johnston was paid $111,925 in 2002 with a benefits package worth $31,433, according to records submitted to the IRS by the parking authority. But Mr. Johnston disputed the 2002 salary information by pointing out that last year he was paid $87,250 plus a $15,000 bonus for a total of $102,250. He could not explain why the higher figure was reported to the IRS.

    Mr. Johnston's salary for this year was approved by his board at $91,927, he said, with the same opportunity for a "performance bonus," he said.

  • Citifest's Ms. Champa is a city employee, unlike her counterparts at the other two nonprofits. She was paid $52,817 last year, less than half that of Mr. Johnston and Mr. Gozza.

    A new agency that is a consolidation of the three nonprofits could be the "Downtown Toledo Improvement District," or be formed under some other name, Mr. Gozza suggested.

    He expects some sort of consolidation to move forward. He is concerned about the future of his organization and his job.

    "As far as I know, we're all in limbo right now," he said. "Who wouldn't be concerned?"

    The City Council finance committee projects a $3.5 million shortfall for this year's city budget, which must find new revenue, suffer cuts, or a combination of the two, to be in balance. Next year's potential deficit is $14 million.

    "There was some concern voiced because of the budget situation," Mr. Johnston said. "I think everybody involved in the operations of publicly owned entities needs to look at their budgets and see what can be done in terms of efficiencies."

    Mr. Gerken said council members "are required to look at any place there might be duplication of efforts" when considering ways to cut expenses.

    "When you start looking at the salaries of Downtown Toledo Inc., Citifest, and the parking authority," he said, "you start to think: Is there some way to consolidate those activities and save some money? Any business person would do it."

    Contact Christopher D. Kirkpatrick at: ckirkpatrick@theblade.com or 419-724-6077.



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