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Published: Tuesday, 12/7/2004

4-hour meeting yields no solution to city budget crisis

BY TOM TROY
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Toledo resident Ed Nagle speaks against a proposed trash fee during a meeting. Toledo resident Ed Nagle speaks against a proposed trash fee during a meeting.
FRASER / BLADE Enlarge

Toledo City Council ended its first round of budget hearings last night with little idea on how to solve the city's budget crisis.

"It is going to be very, very painful whatever solution we come up with," Council President Louis Escobar said as the committee-of-the-whole hearing got under way.

Council took four hours of testimony on Mayor Jack Ford's proposed $223.6 million general fund budget that will affect parks, recreation, trash collection, and recycling.

The cuts are recommended by Mr. Ford as part of a 2.5 percent downsizing of the general fund budget to keep pace with declining tax revenues. The plan involves eliminating 112 jobs, including 50 in the police and fire departments.

Among the proposed solutions, Mr. Escobar's proposal for a $7 trash fee attracted no new support last night among his fellow council members, or the handful of residents who spoke.

And a plan by the administration to establish a city-owned tow lot was not well-received either.

Ed Nagle, owner of a trucking company, said council should be looking for big spending cuts, rather than imposing a new fee.

He said blaming the trash fee on the need to save police and fire jobs is "unconscionable."

"We can't continue to raise taxes. We're in a downward trend," Mr. Nagle said.

Kattie Bond, director of the parks department, said her department is losing 22 positions, but said it will try to maintain virtually all of its programs and field maintenance.

However, she said flower planting will continue only at major gateways and in highly visible areas.

District 3 Councilman Bob McCloskey complimented Ms. Bond on the appearance of city parks after three years of cuts, but said he is worried about the appearance of the city's cemeteries and ball diamonds this summer.

At-large Councilman Frank Szollosi pressed Ms. Bond on why her budget calls for hiring temporary and seasonal workers for mowing when she is laying off full-time workers. He said the city should shut down the pools, also saving pool improvement money, rather than lay off police and firefighters.

Council members reacted with dismay to the administration's plans for reducing the cost of trash collection by limiting households to three items and by eliminating the pickup of large appliances and yard waste.

"People are not going to take this trash back in. It's going to be all over the neighborhood, and we have a rat problem," Mr. McCloskey said.

David Welch, commissioner of solid waste, said the reduced pickups will save money by running fewer routes and using fewer temporary workers.

The mayor's proposal to establish a city-owned police tow lot took a beating from the towing operators and their attorney, and from council members.

The administration plans to take over the daily storage of about 14,300 vehicles towed annually as the result of accidents, crimes, or vehicle thefts. The cars still would be picked up by tow-truck operators. The mayor's staff claims that after paying the debt on a 25-acre tow lot and other costs, the operation would net $454,000 a year for the general fund.

Joseph Walter, the city's safety director, said the city would pay between $840,000 and $1.2 million for a site.

Joe Jordan, attorney for the Toledo Towing Association, raised doubts about the administration's projections, and said by taking over the storage business, the city could cause 80 jobs to be lost.

He disputed the administration's claims that it could run a tow lot with the same five police officers who currently process towed vehicle paperwork.

"The city has no idea how to run a tow lot," Mr. Jordan said.

Councilman Betty Shultz said the city has tried and failed to run tow lots in the past. But Mr. Escobar said he believes the proposal is a workable one.

As an alternative to a city-run tow lot, the tow operators proposed creation of a $30 or $40 administrative fee on top of the $85 tow fee, which they said would be paid in most cases by insurers.

But council members didn't like the fee idea either.

Mr. Escobar said the plan is more workable than the tow operators want to admit.

As the deadline for solving the budget crisis looms, At-large Councilman George Sarantou, chairman of the finance committee, complained that City Council is being left out of the loop by the administration.

"The council task force has not met with the administration task force, on a regular basis, since September, and we are paying the price for this," Mr. Sarantou said. "I'm not going to put my name on a budget that's not going to work."

Mr. Szollosi expressed confidence that both the layoffs and the trash fee will be avoided, mostly by getting concessions from city unions and deferring capital improvements.

Council has at least one more hearing on the budget, set for 4 p.m. Thursday, to discuss the police and fire budgets and the capital improvements budget.

Contact Tom Troy at:

tomtroy@theblade.com

or 419-724-6058.



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