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Published: Sunday, 3/28/2010

Patch Toledo streets or pay police?

BY JC REINDL
BLADE STAFF WRITER

A proposal to patch some of Toledo's fiscal potholes by redirecting money that could fix actual potholes in city roadways is one facet of Mayor Mike Bell's plan that voters will have say over this spring.

The money-shifting plan to help solve the city's financial crisis is to appear on the May 4 ballot and would allow the city to move $15 million a year designated for capital improvement projects — including road repair — into the general fund, where city officials could spend it on police and fire salaries, refuse collections, or other departments.

The money comes from the 0.75 percent “temporary” portion of Toledo's 2.25 percent income tax.

Steve Herwat, deputy mayor of operations, said that if voters approve the measure, the city doesn't intend to transfer any of the $15 million to the general fund but intends to move $7 million of unspent capital improvement money to the general fund by cutting already approved but unfinished capital improvement projects.

No matter what city officials say their intentions are in 2010, if voters approve the ballot measure on May 4 to change the allocation of tax dollars from the 0.75 percent income tax, the current and future City Council will have the authority to move as much of the road repair and infrastructure money as it wants into the general fund to pay police and fire salaries and other bills.

There are more than 100 en-dangered projects on the city's current capital improvements list — dating as far back as 2001 — and Mr. Herwat said he intends to start sorting through them this weekend to see which ones the city can live without.

He'll then share his thoughts with department heads next week and get their ideas.

“I'm going to give it a good look over the weekend,” Mr. Herwat said yesterday. “Some of them are $50,000, some of them are $2 million, and everything in between.”

Mr. Herwat couldn't say how road resurfacing or pothole-filling projects would fare in his preliminary review. But perhaps he could sympathize if his vehicle this weekend passes over one of the city's concrete washboards like that of Oswald Street in East Toledo.

Bill Moore, 52, who lives along Oswald's 600 block, said his neighborhood is rife with holes in the road that the city sometimes tries to patch but never fully remedies.

“They're up and down our street when you look around — they're everywhere,” said Mr. Moore, who wants the city to keep its road repair commitments. “They should take care of our streets. Last year I bought a new car and I don't want to be driving over potholes every day.”

Mr. Moore will have to wait for his street to be repaved. Residential street repaving was suspended last year and again in this year's budget.

The city is repaving major roads this year, such as Secor Road in West Toledo and Michigan Street downtown, with the help of federal stimulus dollars.

Potholes are native not only to the east side; they're all over North, West, and South Toledo. Rick Briner can attest to sorry conditions around what was once Southwyck Shopping Center.

A financial adviser at Toledo Financial Group, Mr. Briner gets to work by driving around the horseshoe-shaped Southwyck Boulevard that encircles the site of what was once the most vibrant shopping mall in northwest Ohio.

That site is now as barren as a desert. The boulevard survives but is pockmarked with crevices and mottled by temporary patches.

Mr. Briner said he still considers the road to be a very bumpy ride, although somewhat better than it was before city workers last year did a long-awaited patching job. Still, the boulevard could use major resurfacing.

“It was a roller-coaster,” said Mr. Briner, 38, of Maumee. “There were at least two cases where someone stopped along the side of the road with what looked like a flat tire. Fortunately, my car has a decent suspension.”

Closer to downtown, deli owner Sarkis David pointed to the numerous fissures in the busy road outside his business at the intersection of Broadway and Knapp streets.

“They did some resurfacing out here a few years ago, but you can see that whoever did it didn't do a good job,” said Mr. David, who co-owns the Original Sub Shop & Deli with his wife.

Yet Mr. David said he has followed the discussion over the use of revenue from the city's income tax and agreed with the proposed money-shift if it helps keep police officers on the street.

“The safety of the city is much more important” than road repairs, he said. “I'd rather have a flat tire or something than be shot.”

The city's income tax nets approximately $90 million a year, of which $30 million goes to the capital improvement fund — $15 million from the 0.75 percent temporary income tax and $15 million from the city's permanent 1.5 percent income tax.

The 0.75 percent portion of the income tax, first approved in 1982 as a temporary measure, has been renewed by voters every four years.

Revenue from that income tax is required to be divided into thirds: one-third to capital improvements, one-third to police and fire, and one-third to the general fund.

The measure that goes before voters in May calls for loosening those portion restrictions.

The details of the plan are different from those of Issue 1, which voters rejected last September and that would have taken nearly $4 million from last year's capital improvement plan budget via the 0.75 percent income tax and designated that money specifically for police and fire services.

Don Czerniak, president of Local 7 of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, said his union opposed Issue 1 but will not oppose this newest income tax proposal, in large part because it's not permanent.

Contact JC Reindl at:jreindl@theblade.comor 419-724-6065.



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