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Toledo budget, water, Kroger store focus of mayoral forum

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    Toledo mayoral candidates Wade Kapszukiewicz, left, Opal Covey, 2nd from left, Mayor Paula Hicks-Hudson, 2nd from right, and Tom Waniewski, right, listen to forum rules from Mary Karazim at Old Orchard School in Toledo.

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    Toledo mayoral candidates Tom Waniewski, left, Wade Kapszukiewicz, center, Mayor Paula Hicks-Hudson, second from right, and Opal Covey, right, select their order of speaking and forum rules from Mary Karazim at the Old Orchard School in Toledo.

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    Toledo mayoral candidate Opal Forum prepares her remarks before the beginning of the non-partisan forum at Old Orchard School in Toledo.

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    Opal Covey listens to Wade Kapszukiewicz during a Toledo mayoral candidates forum Tuesday.

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The four candidates for mayor of Toledo sparred Tuesday over issues of planning, budgeting, water distribution, and the continuing favorite topic in West Toledo: the new planned location of a Kroger store.

In the only public, mayor-only forum attended by the top three candidates in the Sept. 12 primary election so far, those vying for office met at Old Orchard School with an audience of about 150 people.

Endorsed Democratic incumbent Mayor Paula Hicks-Hudson, Lucas County Treasurer Wade Kapszukiewicz, endorsed Republican Councilman Tom Waniewski, and self-proclaimed prophetess Opal Covey — a perennial long shot in Toledo mayoral races — sat next to each other in the school’s gymnasium.

Mayor Hicks-Hudson lamented millions of dollars in cutbacks in state government funds to local government. But she pivoted quickly to thank voters for approving the city's temporary income tax.

“But we're not out of the woods yet,” Ms. Hicks-Hudson said.

Mr. Kapszukiewicz said the city apparently lost track of $8.2 million that sat unused for five years in a city account until its existence was reported in The Blade.

“I am worried about what City Hall did when they learned about it. The response was not what the public deserved,” Mr. Kapszukiewicz said.

Mr. Waniewski said the good news is city income tax revenues are higher than what was projected. He took issue with Mayor Hicks-Hudson's comment about lost state revenue, citing newer sources of revenue, including from gambling and the use of red light cameras, which together, he said, generate about $9.6 million.

“That more than offsets the lost money from the state,” Mr. Waniewski said.

In their opening statements, Mr. Kapszukiewicz noted that he lives in the Old Orchard neighborhood with his family.

“I walked here tonight. Actually according to The Blade I should walk more often,” Mr. Kapszukiewicz joked, referring to a Blade report on the candidates' health conditions. “I wish every neighborhood had the strength and vitality this one has.”

Mayor Hicks-Hudson started with a moment of silence for flood-ravaged Houston, saying Toledo emergency responders are on their way to help. A fire department spokesman on Tuesday night said firefighters were ready to leave but were waiting on a final OK from state officials.

“Our neighborhoods are moving in the right direction,” Ms. Hicks-Hudson said.

“I stepped in and stepped up to the challenge,” she said, recalling the death of Mayor D. Michael Collins that made her mayor automatically because she was council president in 2015.

Mr. Waniewski talked of his career as a broadcast journalist, and as a co-founder of an internet provider, Access Toledo, and his father and mother.

Ms. Covey attacked Democrats who, she said, have long dominated politics and government in Toledo, and who, she said, stole her votes in previous elections.

Whether to enter a regional water treatment plant was one issue the candidates agreed on. Mr. Kapszukiewicz painted a dire future, saying that if Toledo doesn't embrace regional water, water rates will double or triple in seven years.

Mr. Waniewski and Ms. Hicks-Hudson both portrayed the city as well along in forming partnerships with the other communities that buy their water from Toledo.

“By monetizing the plant at $1 billion we can get money to pave roads and improve the water treatment plant,” Mr. Waniewski said.

Ms. Covey and Mr. Kapszukiewicz agreed that allowing Kroger to rezone former convent land at Secor Road and Monroe Street was wrong.

“We don't need another big-box store,” Ms. Covey said.

Mr. Kapszukiewicz said he thought it was the wrong location and the closure of two large stores in the area has proven him right.

“There were other opportunities in the same general area to achieve a win for everyone,” Mr. Kapszukiewicz said.

Mayor Hicks-Hudson said she focused on retaining green space and limiting additional buildings. She claimed credit for a clause in the rezoning that would require Kroger to return to the Toledo Lucas County Plan Commission for any site changes.

“I believe strongly in land use and planning,” Ms. Hicks-Hudson said.

Mr. Waniewski said the Notre Dame nuns who owned the property had no offers for non-retail use.

“We're required by law to base zoning on one thing — land use. To sit down and decide where [Kroger] should be, that's not our decision,” Mr. Waniewski said.

The forum was sponsored by the Old Orchard Neighborhoods Association and the League of Women Voters of Toledo-Lucas County.

Contact Tom Troy at tomtroy@theblade.com419-724-6058 or on Twitter @TomFTroy.

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