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Published: Sunday, 3/21/2010

Frustration fills e-mails to Toledo mayor, councilmen

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER

When Mike Bell took the job of running Toledo during its deepest budget crisis in history, he didn't expect to make lots of people happy with his plan of cutbacks, tax hikes, and fee increases to bring the city back from the brink of fiscal collapse.

But whew. Some of the e-mails people send him are just downright harsh.

"Most people are understanding, when you talk to them about what needs to be done," the mayor said weeks ago when he first released his plan to balance a $48 million general-fund deficit.

"But a lot of people are actually still not going to like it," Mr. Bell said.

The hundreds - if not thousands - of e-mail correspondences sent to Mr. Bell since March 1 alone show that sentiment quite well.

A review of those e-mails and the approximately 100 a day sent to each of the dozen city councilmen shows a range of emotion from disappointment, anger, and even disgust for city government, which are all pretty common nationwide in tough times when tough solutions such as police layoffs and higher taxes are proposed.

The biggest request: Keep your hand out of my wallet.

"I voted for you and will be very upset if you go ahead and raise the refuse fee to $15 a month," Dorothy Kralik wrote last week. "That is much more than Carty ever wanted. Please see that you lower that fee. We seniors are getting tired of more expenses and no raises."

Mr. Bell's plan to balance the books includes city union concessions, an 8 percent sports-and-event tax, elimination of the income tax credit for Toledoans who work outside the city, and an increase in the monthly fee for collecting trash to $15.

On his way out of office, former Mayor Carty Finkbeiner suggested that Mr. Bell and council bump the trash fee to $16 a month, along with cutting the tax credit, and consider seeking voter approval to raise the income tax from 2.25 percent to 2.5 percent.

Mr. Bell considered a request for an income-tax increase. But at the last minute he dropped his request for council to ask voters in May to boost the income tax for everyone in Toledo.

With the city's switch to automated trash collection, using a shifting-day pickup schedule, and now the possible fee increase, many of the e-mails Mr. Bell gets are about garbage.

"I can't believe it - you get into office and cry money, money wanting to cut this that and everything … what happened to not wanting to pay garbage men overtime … is raising the fee paying their overtime???" said a March 8 letter signed Sue and Tim Timming of Ruth Avenue.

"The whole idea of this STUPID garbage program was to SAVE money - well I've [seen] nothing but wasting money," the e-mail said.

The couple wrote about struggling to move the new trash containers, losing unlimited pickup, and watching a three-man crew collect garbage for months even though they had the new containers.

Automated pickup allows the city to send a single person rather than a three-person crew to operate a truck and collect garbage.

"I don't expect an answer as I've complained about this since we got stuck with this program and everyone is high and mighty and too good to find an answer … just raise fee and keep wasting money!" it said.

Other people are more diplomatic while trying to dissuade the mayor from using higher taxes and fees to balance the budget.

"As I was driving from my home in Toledo to my job in Maumee this morning on westbound I-475, as I do every day, an idea occurred to me. I thought I would share it with you," said a letter to the mayor and Police Chief Mike Navarre that was signed Sue Polzin.

"Instead of eliminating the 100 percent tax credit for those of us who live in Toledo and work in other cities, why don't you put some police cars along I-475 to issue speeding tickets to the numerous drivers who pass me daily going well beyond the posted 60 MPH limit!" Ms. Polzin wrote.

A resident who signed an e-mail last week to Mr. Bell as "Beau R." suggested the city cure its money woes with a "Fat Tax."

"It basically puts a tax on nondiet sodas, in some cases, 'energy drinks' (HUGE sugar issue … over-use could lead to diabetes), and a tax on sales at fast food restaurants such as McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's, and Taco Bell," the e-mail said.

The mayor's plan to tax Toledo's entertainment industry generated a plethora of e-mails to him and to City Council because of an organized effort against the idea.

The Mud Hens posted on the team's Web site, mudhens.com, directions to e-mail Mr. Bell and councilmen, urging them to vote against the proposed ticket tax.

"You must be so embarrassed to have even proposed this action," said an e-mail to Mr. Bell and the councilmen, signed by Amy Bragy.

"We already pay outrageous ticket, concession, and souvenir prices. … Being self-employed, I doubt that we would be able to afford our Walleye season tickets should this tax be imposed," she wrote.

On March 15, Laura Osborne of South Toledo asked the mayor to "go after" more "nonpaid taxes and red-light violators," which is something the mayor has already pledged to do in an effort to collect millions.

She also offers to volunteer her time "to boot cars that run the red lights and get caught speeding."

Several e-mails ask Mr. Bell and council to avoid police and firefighter layoffs.

The mayor sent 125 police officers 30-day layoff notices on Monday but agreed two days later to at least temporarily rescind the notices.

Layoff notices on the same day to 125 firefighters were recalled after a last-minute negotiation that Mr. Bell called "positive" but refused to discuss.

Betsy Noonan of Maplewood Drive found the proposal to lay off police unbelievable. "Shame on you!" she wrote on Tuesday.

"If you do this again to the police force, then the younger ones will seek employment elsewhere and where will the city be when you wish to recall them," Ms. Noonan wrote. "Cut all the unnecessary spending, lay off those who are not vital to running the city, and keep the safety forces."

There are about 594 city employees paid for out of the general fund who are not sworn police officers or firefighters.

Getting rid of those people would mean there would be no mayor, no councilmen, and no one to collect income taxes, process building permits, inspect new construction, answer emergency 911 calls, pick up trash, or even prosecute and judge criminals in Municipal Court.

The mayor is also inundated with requests to appear at events, speak during meetings, or attend functions.

Block Watch captains seem particularly fond of getting Mr. Bell to speak at their meetings to rally the troops.

Jen Sorgenfrei, Mr. Bell's spokesman, said the mayor takes the correspondences seriously.

Often, Mr. Bell stays late in the office and goes through the dozens of daily e-mails.

Mr. Bell sometimes responds himself or even calls the person if he or she leaves a telephone number, Ms. Sorgenfrei said.

Councilman Lindsay Webb, a Democrat who represents Point Place and part of North Toledo, said she has been "bombarded" recently with e-mails about the proposed ticket tax.

"The majority of constituents that I am hearing from expect union concessions, and quite frankly so do I," Ms. Webb said.

Councilman Tom Wa-

niewski, a Republican who represents District 5 in West Toledo, said the vast majority of his e-mails are against higher taxes and fees.

"There is no question that I would say 99.9 percent of my e-mails are 'please no more fees,' and then they go into specifics," Mr. Waniewski said. "•'The private sector has cut and now it's time for the public sector to get cut,' is what's overwhelming in many regards."

Councilman George Sarantou, who is an at-large Republican, said the preponderance of e-mails in his inbox are those against the elimination of the tax credit.

"Maybe a couple were in favor, but 95 percent were against the tax credit idea, and it was from people who work outside the city," Mr. Sarantou said.

Every now and then, an e-mail with a pleasant tone makes its way into Mr. Bell's or council inboxes.

"You are doing a great job!!" Beth Foster wrote to the mayor on March 2. "Mike, thank you so much for taking on the role of mayor in this most difficult time. We couldn't have chosen a more level headed person, that keeps everyone's best interest in mind."

Contact Ignazio Messina at:

imessina@theblade.com

or 419-724-6171.



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