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Published: Tuesday, 3/6/2012

Bridge work, cameras sought in Toledo

Council to hear proposals for capital improvements

BY CLAUDIA BOYD-BARRETT
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Bridge repairs, police surveillance cameras, and creation of an in-house payroll system are among items listed on a $61 million capital improvements budget released by the city of Toledo.

The administration of Mayor Mike Bell is scheduled to present the proposed expenditures Tuesday to City Council, although the majority of the budget has been approved.

Among the $6.3 million in outstanding requests, almost $700,000 would go toward the purchase of 150 police surveillance cameras. That would be added to $914,000 in grant and trust fund money set aside for the project.

Police Chief Derrick Diggs plans to use the technology to bolster his department’s crime-fighting abilities, establishing a “Real Time Crime Center” at police headquarters where officers could monitor the camera feeds.

Bridges also feature prominently on the list of proposed expenditures. The city hopes to spend $400,000 to restore bridges throughout Toledo, although which structures would be targeted hasn’t been released. One historic span, however, would get its own allocation. The 1920s-era bridge outside the Owens Corning building downtown — maintenance of which the city said this year it could no longer cover — would be allotted $125,000 for renovations under the capital improvements program budget.

The city also proposes to bring its payroll system in-house at a cost of $390,000. An outside company now does the payroll. Councilman George Sarantou, chairman of the finance committee, said that he wants to examine the numbers closely before approving such a move.

“Council will want to get all the fine details,” he said. “We will have to take a very good look at that and see whether that is cost effective.”

Other yet-to-be approved capital expenditures include $405,000 for renovations of city buildings, $325,000 toward an expansion of Forest Cemetery, and a $1 million upgrade to the city’s landfill.

The requested landfill expenditure is based on a ruling by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, Mr. Sarantou said. He said he intends to find out whether the project can be stretched out over a longer period.

“One million dollars is a lot of money,” he said. “The question is, is that really necessary?”

As proposed in the city’s general fund budget, a large chunk of capital improvements program money is slated to be set aside to cover day-to-day operating expenses such as police and fire services. Under the proposal, almost $12 million would be taken out of the capital improvements fund for this purpose.

The Bell administration has been using the infrastructure money to plug the gaps in its general fund since 2010.

“That’s a troubling figure, that $12 million, but we have to do that to avoid layoffs,” Mr. Sarantou said. “It’s not a figure that I’m pleased to see, but it’s also a necessary figure if we’re going to maintain basic city services.”

Councilman D. Michael Collins echoed the concerns about the transfers.

“We must wean ourselves away from using the [capital improvements money] as a rainy day fund and work within our financial constraints,” Mr. Collins said. “You can’t borrow your way out of financial dilemmas. ... Your operating costs must reflect your income.”

Mr. Collins took particular issue with the funding request for police cameras. He speculated the cameras would cost a considerable additional amount to maintain. Also reflected in the capital improvements program proposal are items already approved by council, most notably $12.3 million toward a total $28 million street repair program for this year.

The administration plans to spend $31 million more on road reconstruction and repair in 2013, much of that from issuing bonds.

Council has also already approved $277,000 to restore Roosevelt Pool in central Toledo, an item councilman Paul Hicks-Hudson sis excited about.

“That’s something that we needed to do,” she said. “Not just for infrastructure, but also for providing recreational activities for kids.”

Deputy Mayor Steve Herwat and Finance Director Patrick McLean were unavailable for comment Monday.

Contact Claudia Boyd-Barrett at cbarrett@theblade.com or 419-724- 6272.



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