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Published: 4/6/2005

City will use parks fund to balance budget

Toledo Mayor Jack Ford announced yesterday the city will borrow $307,000 from the Toledo parks fund to officially balance the 2004 budget.

That will leave untouched nearly $4.6 million in the city's rainy day fund.

Mr. Ford said the transfer - which he vowed to pay back - allowed the city to close out 2004 with a $25,000 surplus.

The small surplus is a turnaround from the $3.5 million deficit that threatened the general operating fund budget last year, Mr. Ford told City Council.

The mayor recalled his meeting with bond rating agencies on Wall Street last June in which he said the city would not tap into the rainy day fund again.

"The rating folks remember what you promised," he said.

Mr. Ford said he plans to use the $25,000 surplus to begin replenishing the rainy day fund, in what he acknowledged as a largely symbolic gesture.

The fund, officially known as the budget stabilization account, stood at nearly $8.9 million on Jan. 1, 2004, and is now $4.59 million. The mayor and council transferred $4.29 million last year to balance the 2004 budget.

"I believe that we have a very positive story to tell in this regard when we return to New York City this summer," Mr. Ford said. Higher bond ratings translate into lower interest rates when the city borrows money.

The 2004 close-out means the city spent $224.9 million - $6 million less than was budgeted for the year.

Mr. Ford said the deficit was avoided by clamping down on spending. "It is the directors who have really put the brakes on city spending," he said.

The $3.5 million deficit was due in part to a sudden downturn in city tax collections last June. That shortfall was the prelude to a potential $16.8 million deficit for 2005 that threatened the layoffs of 50 police officers and firefighters.

The mayor said that the $307,000 borrowed from the parks fund would be paid back by the end of the year, along with $561,000 that was taken to balance the 2005 budget.

The parks fund was established by council in April, 1991, with $3.3 million in taxes paid on the estate of the late Paul Block, Jr., who was publisher of The Blade from 1942 to 1987,

and who lived in South Toledo.

The repayments will restore the fund to $2.4 million, city Finance Director Tom Crothers said.

Mr. Ford said he has ordered cuts in the 2005 budget of $868,000 to repay the borrowed parks money. Starting at the end of May, the city will make monthly payments of $108,500 until the fund is repaid.

"I've tried to respect the wishes of the Block family that that money not be frittered away," Mr. Ford said.

The mayor said he still plans to use money from the parks fund to build an open-air amphitheater in Promenade Park.

Mr. Crothers said the $868,000 was found by reducing spending to match similar line items in 2004. He said the biggest chunk, $500,000, was cut from the $18 million health care budget, based on the level of health care spending last year.

In other action yesterday, council:

w●Approved a resolution urging HCR ManorCare not to interfere in efforts by employees to affiliate with Service Employees International Union District 1199.

An organizer for SEIU said employees at Heartland-Holly Glen nursing home in Toledo and Heartland of Perrysburg nursing home are changing from their longtime affiliation with Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees union to SEIU, and an election is set for April 20.

w●Approved a zone change and a special-use permit for a new Bowsher High School to be built northwest of South Detroit and Arlington avenues.

w●Approved a special-use permit for a marina-boat storage facility at 6212 Edgewater Drive.

w●Appropriated $2.1 million for construction of a city police tow lot on Dura Avenue. The measure passed 9-1 with Councilman Rob Ludeman voting no.

w●Approved a $73,400 payment to former police communications operator Carol McMahon-Williamson to settle claims of gender discrimination.



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