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Published: Thursday, 10/29/2009

Toledo mayor slaps council for money vote, casino issue

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Toledo Mayor Carty Finkbeiner criticized City Council and its president yesterday for redirecting unused capital improvement money and for dodging a vote to endorse State Issue 3 on casino gambling.

Although Council President Joe McNamara said council's action Tuesday night reduced the city's 2009 general fund debt by $5.7 million, the mayor said they "have not reduced the 2009 [7.7 million] deficit by one penny."

The dispute is complicated and grounded in how one chooses to view city finances. But at the heart of it seems to be a growing rift between Mr. Finkbeiner and Mr. McNamara.

"Councilman McNamara's statement that 'we reduced the deficit by $5.7 million' is arrogant, self-serving, and just plain a falsehood," Mr. Finkbeiner said during a news conference.

Mr. McNamara said the mayor is lashing out at him and council for not approving tax and fee increases he sought to help avoid a deficit in the city's general fund - which was as high as $27 million earlier this year.

"We reduced the debt of the 2009 deficit," Mr. McNamara said. "This is basic math."

Technically, they are both correct.

Council voted 10-1 Tuesday to approve a suggestion made by Mr. McNamara to spend $2.51 million of the $3.9 million of capital improvement money left over from voters' rejection last month of the Safety First plan.

Councilman Betty Shultz voted no and Councilman Phillip Copeland was not present.

The $2.51 million will now be used to pay 2010 debt-service costs for the purchase of automated trash trucks and containers, which otherwise would have been paid for next year with general fund money.

Under Mr. McNamara's plan, the city can now apply that general fund money that would have gone toward the trucks and trash containers to pay down the 2009 deficit that will be carried over into 2010.

The mayor does not see it that way and blamed the city's deficit "very squarely" on Mr. McNamara.

Mr. Finkbeiner said because it will not be applied until next year, council cannot take credit for reducing the deficit. Furthermore, the mayor opposed how council redirected the $2.51 million.

"Those voters who, on Sept. 15 voted no on Issue 1 have an opportunity on Nov. 3 to send a message to Mr. McNamara and council members who ignored your vote against Issue 1 and just took road resurfacing dollars and park improvement dollars from your neighborhood," Mr. Finkbeiner said.

The $3.9 million was actually set aside in the 2009 capital improvements budget, which the mayor submitted to council. The mayor's budget did not include any money for residential street repaving when he sent it to council.

Issue 1 would have changed the allocation of the city's 0.75 percent temporary income tax for three years and shifted money from capital improvements toward general-fund expenses such as police and fire salaries.

The mayor was first against the ballot question, then in favor of it, and then finally against it.

In August, he unsuccessfully tried to get council to approve an alternative ballot question for the Nov. 4 election that would have let him use the $3.9 million of capital funding money to pay down the deficit. That would have just allowed the one-time bailout from the capital improvement budget to help the general fund.

Mr. McNamara's plan does essentially what the mayor had sought voter approval for in August.

Mr. Finkbeiner, 70, is not seeking re-election and has been fighting the apparent lame-duck status some councilmen have wanted to pin on him. Mr. McNamara, 32, on the other hand, is one of four council incumbents seeking another term.

Mr. McNamara said the personal attack was unwarranted.

"City council has reduced the debt without rasing taxes," Mr. McNamara said.

"Mayor Finkbeiner has been obsessed with raising taxes, and every attempt to balance the budget without rasing taxes has been met with vitriol and lack of respect for honest differences of opinion," he said.

Council Tuesday night also voted 11-0 to accept $3.2 million from FirstEnergy Solutions through the Northwest Ohio Aggregation Coalition, which can be applied to the deficit. The city gets the money in exchange for a six-year extension of an electric aggregation contract.

But because the money has not been received, the mayor refused to say that the deficit is in fact reduced.

He also criticized council for ducking a vote on Issue 3, which would allow casinos in Toledo and three other Ohio cities.

"City council has again demonstrated its lack of courage and fiscal responsibility by finding another way of dodging an issue," Mr. Finkbeiner said.

Councilman Lindsay Webb, who had sponsored the resolution, tabled it Tuesday.

Ms. Webb said she did so to spare her fellow councilmen embarrassment regarding their vote - especially the four at-large members seeking re-election on Nov. 4.

Contact Ignazio Messina at:

imessina@theblade.com

or 419-724-6171.



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