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Published: Thursday, 12/7/2006

Vote puts snow, leaf pickup in balance

BY TOM TROY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Toledoans may have to give up some residential snow plowing and leaf pickup if they want the city's annual assessed-services budget to be frozen at 2005 levels.

That was the word from the Finkbeiner administration at a city council hearing to discuss the proposed 9 percent increase in assessed services for 2007, from $27.3 million in 2006 to $29.7 million next year.

The measure is up for a vote on Tuesday.

Five council members have signed a letter stating they won't support the increase and want the assessed services budget rolled back to the 2005 level of $27 million.

That would save the owner of a 40-foot-wide residential parcel about $17.

The letter was signed by Councilmen Frank Szollosi, Ellen Grachek, Mike Craig, Michael Ashford, and Joe McNamara.

Mr. Szollosi said the increase will add unfairly to the tax burden of city residents, especially those on low and fixed incomes.

Assessed services are tacked on to property tax bills.

Toledo charges assessments based on front-footage to pay for alley cleanup, snow and ice removal, tree trimming, surface treatment, street sweeping, boulevard and triangle mowing, leaf collection, and street lighting.

"This council needs to put some common-sense limits on taxes," Mr. Szollosi said. "Council and the administration have to have some appreciation for the costs they're passing along to the taxpayers."

The five votes would be enough to block the measure because a state law requires the assessment resolution to have a three-quarters majority, or at least eight of the 12 council votes, he said.

Mr. Szollosi has advocated unsuccessfully for putting such increases to a public vote.

His critics respond that he raised no objection when he voted with the rest of council to purchase new snowplow and loading equipment and to give city employees a pay raise, two measures which added $2 million to the 2007 assessed services budget.

"This council passed this [purchase of new equipment], I think, understanding that the costs would have to be paid," Councilman George Sarantou said.

Realtor Anna Mills urged council to hold the line on assessments, noting that Toledo has a high rate of housing foreclosures.

"If we look at reduced assessments, we may have to reduce services," Dave Moebius, the city's assistant chief operating officer, said.

To wean itself from assessed services, council would either have to eliminate services or find some other way to pay for them, such as with an increase in the income tax or property taxes, or a combination of the two.

City Finance Director John Sherburne said some cities levy property taxes.

He said Cleveland has a 12-mill property tax, while Toledo has a 4-mill property tax. Cleveland doesn't offer residential snow removal or leaf pickup.

There would be one definite savings from quitting assessed services: the more than $1 million in interest the city pays each year on notes issued to cover the cost of services until the money is recouped through assessments on property tax bills.

Contact Tom Troy at:

tomtroy@theblade.com

or 419-724-6058.



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