Mayor Mike Bell's first state of the city address Wednesday night painted a gloomy picture of the city he inherited on Jan. 4.
He compared taking office to arriving at the scene of a burning building when he was a firefighter.
After two months as mayor, Mr. Bell said his assessment is that the city's situation is dire.
The top problems are the $48.2 million general fund deficit, declining revenue and population, and little to no regional economic development outreach. He also spoke about the difficulty in maintaining city services.
Mayor Bell opened the speech in Nitschke Auditorium at the University of Toledo with words appreciation for the cooperation he's received from City Council, his transition team, and the citizen task force he appointed to review the budget.
VIEW: Mayor's talking points
The task force has created a list of 60 items to reduce costs, find efficiencies, and generate revenue without increasing taxes on residents, he said.
That process identified $25 million in initiatives.
The mayor was also harshly critical about some of the projects former Mayor Carty Finkbeiner pushed to fund or was passionate about.
Mr. Bell said the city could not no longer afford to pursue bad business deals, which now include spending about $1 million of general fund money a year for debt on the Hillcrest, Commordore Perry, and Museum Place apartment buildings.
The mayor emphasized the importance of regional cooperation.
He noted that he arranged is so that Rossford got the same price for water as southern Monroe County.
He noted too that businesses are interested in locating in Toledo.
“I believe we have the opportunity in the next 18 months to bring just about 3,000 jobs,” he said.
Toledo has been too close-knit that it hasn't been able to achieve its goals.
He suggested the possibility of “reaching out to Detroit” and forming a regional economic zone along the lines of Tampa-St. Petersburg and Dallas-Fort Worth.
“In Toledo we've got to change out attitude,” he said.
He credited the Catholic Diocese with coming up with a program to help the elderly with their trash cans.
He asked citizens to believe in the possibility of change and improvement.
“We can do this. It will be unbelievable where we can be in four years.”
The story as it appeared in earlier editions of The Blade and toledoblade.com:
Mayor Mike Bell will have a plain message tonight for residents in his first state of the city address: Toledo's situation is not good and it will take sacrifice before the city is prosperous.
“My focus will be on being able to present reality to people,” Mr. Bell said yesterday when asked about his speech.
It's also an opportunity to sell some tough choices to address Toledo's budget crisis.
“It is going to be straightforward,” Mr. Bell said. “This is where we're at; this is what we need to be able to do, [and] this is why I need your help.”
Since taking office on Jan. 4, the mayor has repeatedly said he alone can't fix the city's problems, which now include a $48.2 million general fund deficit that was created in large part be-cause of joblessness throughout the city.
He has asked city unions to pay more of their pensions and health-care costs and accept a wage reduction. Mr. Bell said he is waiting until tomorrow for an answer from city unions on the requested concessions.
Mr. Bell also said his speech would explain how the city got to where it is and what would be necessary to fix the problem.
“People still believe you can just slash a bunch of people and that will balance the budget, but that is not the case,” he said.
Some of Mayor Bell's budget-fixing ideas include eliminating 100 percent of the tax credit for Toledoans working in other locales, a move that would generate $8 million this year in new revenue.
The mayor's plan also calls for council to delay refuse-fee discounts for recycling that are scheduled to kick in this year, in order to raise an additional $2.7 million.
Councilman D. Michael Collins, an independent like the mayor, said he does not know what to expect from the speech.
“I sincerely hope he shares with our community the need for everyone, and that includes all city employees, to participate in saving our city from receivership,” Mr. Collins said. “I do not believe that creating any new fees or presenting any additional taxes is going to be well-received by the community unless they see employee participation.”
Council President Wilma Brown, a Democrat, said she was hopeful Mr. Bell would use the speech to implore cooperation from city union employees and its residents.
“Everybody has to buy into this and there has to be some giveback,” she said.
Republican Councilman Rob Ludeman assumed the speech would include some positive things the city has to look forward to, including that officials with the state of Ohio and the United Auto Workers had confirmed that Chrysler Group LLC is in discussions to expand its operations in Toledo, perhaps adding hundreds of jobs, if not more than 1,000.
Mr. Bell — who said his speech would not be all doom and gloom — plans to highlight what his administration plans to do to create new jobs in the city, he said.
The speech is to begin at 7 p.m. in Nitchke Auditorium at the University of Toledo. The event is free and open to the public and admission does not require a ticket. Seating is available on a first come, first available basis.
Contact Ignazio Messina at:firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6171.
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