Mr. Bell asked Toledoans to embrace the kind of change he started in 2010 and to support his plan to attract businessmen from China to buy property in the city, working with suburban communities such as Ottawa Hills to combine services like fire protection, and to consider a countywide consolidated trash-collection system.
"We must remember what got us to where we are at: our inability to change," he said. "It is so important to be able to do that."
In 36 minutes, the independent mayor recapped his successes for 2010 and detailed the challenges he plans to tackle in 2011.
"People say, 'Well, what is your plan for 2011?' My plan is simple," Mr. Bell said near the end of his remarks at the University of Toledo's Nitschke Auditorium.
"We've got to find some jobs, we've still got to take care of the budget, and we've got to keep ourselves moving forward, not backward," he said.
"We have to continue to reach out and figure out what is the best thing for us."
Mr. Bell said his September trip to China has begun to pay off, given the announcement recently that two Chinese investors would purchase the city-owned Docks restaurant and entertainment complex in East Toledo for $2.15 million.
Toledo Mayor Mike Bell spent a large portion of his speech addressing a recent request to raise water and sewer rates in an effort to fund repairs to the city's water treatment and sewer plants.
Going to China was "the greatest experience of my life," Mr. Bell said. And it was the beginning of a shift in Toledo's policy for creating jobs.
The mayor stressed that stealing jobs from other American cities would not cure the city's financial woes or help America. Instead, attracting new investment cash from overseas is the key to a successful future, he said.
The mayor said criticisms against the Chinese investors' purchase plan were disappointing, but added that he would nonetheless proceed with similar deals.
"I'm going to continue to work with my Chinese partners," he said.
Mr. Bell spent a substantial portion of his speech addressing his controversial request to raise water and sewer rates and use the extra money to repair the city's water treatment and sewer plants, and the 2,200 miles of underground pipes and mains.
"We have inherited a water system that is right on the brink, to me, of a catastrophic failure. … If we don't put things in place right now to start to fix it, by the time it breaks, it will become an emergency," he said. "Politically for a mayor, it would be very easy to ignore this."
He also acknowledged the resistance against paying higher rates -- what he said would be an extra $16 a month, but stressed that the city needs to repair much of the system in its totality and not continue to patch it together.
Councilman Joe McNamara, chairman of council's public utilities committee, was pleased that the mayor spoke extensively about the water and sewer rate request, which has divided councilmen.
"There is clearly room on council for compromise, which we have not come to yet," Mr. McNamara said.
"I am glad he talked about the rates and I am also glad he talked about some of the backlash against the Chinese investors. He hit those issues head on."
Toledo's general fund budget problem was a reoccurring issue peppered throughout the speech. Mr. Bell said he would not simply lament over the sluggish national economy or the condition of Toledo's budget when he took office.
"We started last year with about a $48 million deficit. I thought that was quite amazing until I heard this year Cincinnati started off with a $60 million deficit, so there is always someone out there trying to beat you," he said, drawing laughter.
Fixing the budget was the biggest challenge last year, Mr. Bell said.
"It was not easy because it required us to do some very, very, very difficult things. Things that had not necessarily been done in the past," Mr. Bell said.
"It required us at some times to make people mad."
The mayor acknowledged that the city unions did not want to offer concessions and that most Toledoans didn't want to pay more in taxes or fees.
The mayor also recapped his administration's success in slashing spending last year. General fund expenditures topped $240 million in 2009 but last year it was about $224 million, he said
"We dropped substantially the expense to our citizens while still providing the services," he said.
"In providing those services, we had a crime rate that dropped over 9 percent in the city of Toledo, we had the lowest homicide rate in the state of Ohio, our fire and police departments worked together when we were having an issue of arsons to make about 35 arrests; our department of neighborhoods, through a $50 million grant provided by the federal government, was able to tear down over 352 structures."
He also addressed concerns over his plan last year to take money from the city's capital improvements fund and use it to balance the general fund and help cover the cost of police, fire, and refuse.
Even with taking $7 million from that fund, Mr. Bell said the city still paved 44-lane miles of roadway while still caring for trees, parks, and cemeteries.
Lucas County Commissioner Pete Gerken praised Mr. Bell's speech as "from the heart" and genuine.
"He is completely right in that we have to drop our egos," Mr. Gerken said. "He has challenges and some tough decisions to make, and there is more room for cooperation."
Councilman George Sarantou said he was pleased with the mayor's message on jobs.
"He understands the importance of jobs to this community," Mr. Sarantou said.
"I was very pleased with his message that we have to take an international focus because it is a global economy and you can't fight that."
Councilman Tom Waniewski said he was impressed that the mayor encapsulated the 2010 troubles while laying out a plan for 2011.
"He recognizes these are tough decisions," Mr. Waniewski said. "He knows that if you don't make the tough decisions, you won't move forward."
Contact Ignazio Messina at: firstname.lastname@example.org, or 419-724-6171.
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