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Published: Wednesday, 9/30/2009

Szollosi, Collins duck vote on trash-fee boost

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER

For a Toledo councilman, sometimes not voting is more effective than voting.

Councilman Frank Szollosi stripped Mayor Carty Finkbeiner last night of a potentially tie-breaking vote to increase the city's monthly trash fee by refusing to remain in council chambers and cast his vote.

Mr. Szollosi made no secret of his plan to prevent a 6-6 tie on an ordinance that would have increased the fee and simultaneously establish a recycling incentive program that offers coupons and gift certificates for groceries and other goods.

"Satisfaction is not a word I would use in this debate," Mr. Szollosi said after his successful maneuver that avoided a vote altogether.

"There are so many people hurting in this city, the last thing they need is for the city and the mayor to reach into their pockets more when we have failed to live within our means," he said.

Mr. Szollosi was joined by Councilman D. Michael Collins in leaving council chambers last night when the time finally came to vote on the trash fee increase.

Council rules require seven affirmative votes to approve a measure.

The mayor casts a tie-breaker in the event of a 6-6 tie, which was predicted last night on the trash fee legislation.

With Mr. Szollosi and Mr. Collins gone, Council President Joe McNamara demanded the legislation be sent to council's finance committee without a vote.

On Sept. 1, council voted down the trash fee increase, with five in favor and six against. Voting in favor of the trash fee increase and rewards program were Mr. McNamara, Wilma Brown, Phillip Copeland, George Sarantou, and Steven Steel.

Voting against were Mr. Collins, Tom Waniewski, Lindsay Webb, Michael Ashford, Mike Craig, and Betty Shultz.

Mrs. Shultz said last night she intended to change her vote to yes, which would have made the split six in favor of the increase and six opposed.

Mrs. Shultz said she did not think through the increase when it came up for a vote four weeks ago and also that she did not want to leave a legacy that included a "bankrupt city."

The change would have granted Mayor Finkbeiner's longstanding request to increase the refuse fee to $10 a month from $8.50 for those who don't recycle and to $7 a month from $1 for those who do recycle.

But it also would have required creation of a recycling rewards program by April 1.

RecycleBank, a company that establishes reward programs in cities throughout the country, offered to run the program for a fee of $6 to $8 per household per year.

The average Toledoan could receive incentives worth $240 a year for participating in the program, the company said.

Mr. McNamara said he supported the fee increase to help reduce the city's deficit, which currently stands at about $7.8 million with just three months remaining in 2009.

If the fee had been increased, it would have generated an additional $363,000 through Dec. 31 and a total of $8.2 million for 2010.

"I just want us to have enough money to pay our safety forces," Mr. McNamara said.

Ms. Webb called the trash fee "zombie legislation," which "would just not die," but Mr. McNamara said it was likely a dead issue at this point.

The mayor did cast one tie-breaking vote last night, which was ultimately irrelevant.

Mr. Szollosi used a council rule to separate the trash free increase and the recycling incentive program into two ordinances so he could vote against an increase but in favor of the rewards program.

Mr. McNamara objected and called for a vote to recombine the two issues into a single piece of legislation, which turned into a 6-6 vote.

Those in favor of recombining the two were Mr. Waniewski, Mrs. Brown, Mr. Copeland, Mr. McNamara, Mr. Sarantou, and Mr. Steel.

Voting against were Mr. Szollosi, Ms. Webb, Mr. Ashford, Mr. Collins, Mr. Craig, and Mrs. Shultz.

The mayor appeared in council chambers after the vote, cast a yes vote, and left.

Before he left, Mr. McNamara asked him to stay nearby, apparently assuming he would have the chance to break another tie, which was later foiled by Mr. Szollosi.

Contact Ignazio Messina at:

imessina@theblade.com

or 419-724-6171.



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