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Published: Tuesday, 12/9/2008

Webb tries to keep river dredging in Toledo budget

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Webb Webb
THE BLADE/ANDY MORRISON Enlarge | Buy This Photo

With just 14 days before Toledo City Council's final scheduled meeting when it can balance a $10 million shortfall in the 2008 budget, Councilman Lindsay Webb yesterday delivered her strategy to prevent plugging that hole with money set aside for dredging the Ottawa River.

Mayor Carty Finkbeiner plans to balance the deficit with unused capital improvement project money - including nearly $1.1 million for Southwyck infrastructure improvements and $1.35 million for Ottawa River dredging, now a decade in the making.

Ms. Webb, whose council district includes Point Place, wants to instead use $1.3 million from other unspent projects, including:

•$524,577 for the city's Hoffman Road landfill.

•$200,000 for Portside docks.

•$190,000 for a developer incentive pool.

•$142,820 for Jeep land acquisition.

"At a certain point, Council, you are either for the Ottawa River dredging or you are against the Ottawa River dredging," Ms. Webb said during a finance committee meeting yesterday.

David Welch, the city's commissioner of streets, bridges, and harbor, argued against keeping the $1.3 million tied up for the dredging project, saying it was not prudent. He said the argument against the dredging includes environmental roadblocks, the state of Michigan's opposition to the project, a lack of federal funding, and the state of Ohio reclaiming a $450,000 grant because the money went unused.

A 1999 Ohio State University Sea Grant Extension study found dredging of the Ottawa River would have an immediate impact of $5 million for the Point Place community, Ms. Webb said.

But Councilman Joe McNamara yesterday questioned if the financial impact would be as strong, given the nation's poor economy.

He also questioned the wisdom of redirecting money away from the city's landfill - a move he said could cost more money in the long run.

After the committee meeting, Ms. Webb answered that concern: "If it is a priority to have that money for the landfill, then the [Finkbeiner] administration should commit to set it aside in the 2009 CIP budget."

She said there would be little hope of restoring the money for the river dredging in next year's budget.

Councilman D. Michael Collins again yesterday demanded to know how the administration would "backfill" the money set aside for the Southwyck Shopping Center that Mr. Finkbeiner wants to reallocate.

He called redevelopment of the now-closed South Toledo mall the most important project in the city - even greater than the Marina District in East Toledo.

Councilman George Sarantou, chairman of the finance committee, said he understood the importance of dredging the river, but he was unsure whether council would agree to keep the money tied up.

"It appears this project is one or two years away," Mr. Sarantou said. "What do we tell the citizens? We aren't going to hire police and fire, but we are going to dredge the Ottawa River?"

The city's 2009 general operating fund budget, which must be approved by March 31, requires $21 million in cutbacks, and the current spending plan includes no money earmarked for new police officers or firefighters.

Contact Ignazio Messina at:

imessina@theblade.com

or 419-724-6171.



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