Another request has been made for new spending from the city of Toledo's Community Development Block Grant fund, this time from a city councilman who wants to use some of the federal money to hire police officers.
Councilman Tom Waniewski asked Mayor Mike Bell Wednesday to consider redirecting up to 15 percent - or $1.3 million in 2010 - of the city's $8.6 million in federal CDBG dollars to hire up to 19 officers.
Mayor Bell already asked City Council to approve giving a total of $400,000 from the fund to the Lucas County Improvement Corp. and Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority for job creation and retention programs.
Mr. Waniewski, a Republican running for the Ohio Senate against Democratic state Rep. Edna Brown, said his proposal is not a result of the apparent availability of block grant money but rather to fill Toledo's need for more neighborhood police - especially police walking, riding bikes, or on horseback.
"I sit on my front porch on Rushland Avenue with a refreshing drink in the summer, and I'll see those police officers drive by with their window up, and nobody's waving to me," Mr. Waniewski said. "I want that interaction with the public, with the neighbors, and I don't think that's a hard sell with the taxpayers."
Mr. Waniewski represents Toledo's 5th council district on the northwest side, which he said has no community development corporations that traditionally compete for block grant money. He said asking the Bell administration and City Council to reconfigure Toledo's five-year Community Development Block Grant plan submitted to and approved in the last year by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development was his way "to get a share of the pie" that doesn't normally go to his district. But he also said the benefit of adding police with block grant funds would have a citywide effect, and it's unclear to what degree his proposal would benefit the 5th district.
City officials, including Mr. Waniewski, said the city can use block grant money to hire police only in low-to-moderate-income areas, as determined by the U.S. Census. And those officers are typically supposed to be for crime prevention and other community policing services.
Mr. Waniewski's council district has very few eligible neighborhoods - at least 51 percent of families make 80 percent or less of the median income - but the 11th District Ohio Senate seat Mr. Waniewski seeks includes the central city, where the highest concentration of eligible neighborhoods exists.
Ms. Brown said Mr. Waniewski's proposal sounded to her like a "political ploy."
"I personally have respect for [police] Chief [Mike] Navarre and Safety Director Shirley Green, and I personally would not try to dictate to them how money for public safety should be allocated," she said.
The Toledo Police Department has 566 officers and is scheduled to hire a new class of about 30 this year, but the numbers will be reduced by retirements.
Chief Navarre said his needs are in citywide patrols, vice, and narcotics, and investigators - areas not likely covered under federal guidelines for block-grant dollars.
"Would I like to have more police officers? Yes," Chief Navarre said. "How they're paid for is a matter for the mayor and City Council to decide."
Jen Sorgenfrei, Mayor Bell's spokesman, said the federal rules on block-grant dollars allow for up to 15 percent of a community's allocation to be spent on public service, which includes public safety and also items such as child care, health care, housing counseling, senior centers, and soup kitchens.
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