East Toledo — is it a second tier portion of Toledo?
Incumbent Mike Bell was on the defense during much of a Toledo mayoral forum hosted by the East Toledo Club and The Press Thursday.
On the offense? Challenger D. Michael Collins, a District 2 city councilman. Toledo voters will determine on November 5 whether Bell remains mayor for four more years or if Collins takes office in 2014.
|Toledo Mayor Mike Bell and contender D. Michael Collins answer questions
concerning East Toledoan during a debate at the East Toledo Senior Center.
(Press photos by Ken Grosjean)
Collins hit home while speaking to 75 residents who showed up at the East Toledo Senior Center in Navarre Park Thursday afternoon.
“Unfortunately, East Toledo has not been addressed as a part of the city except when it’s convenient for East Toledo to be addressed as such, and that’s a shameful statement to make,” Collins said.
It must have been what residents wanted to hear because they burst into applause before Collins could finish answering a question about housing issues.
“I plan on rebuilding our neighborhoods,” Collins continued. “What I believe we need to do is get our community service officer, code inspector, and a nuisance abatement director and have them specifically assigned to the sector that belongs to East Toledo.
“They would be reporting to the mayor’s office through the chief of police every quarter as to what the outcomes have been, what they have done, and they will work as a team and they will work exclusively to the neighborhoods because what has to happen is the neighbors have to believe and have trust in the city. The city has to have the trust of the neighborhoods.
“We will bring that trust back together. East Toledo is part of Toledo and not a step-child which identifies itself as a zip code,” Collins said.
Bell responded, “It’s like we’re treating East Toledo like it’s some type of second tier portion of our city. I’m telling you that we don’t. We are actually creating an environment by (rebuilding) seven or eight roads that we’ve tore up and put back together. But we have 84 square miles that we have to look after and we have to be fair to all of it.”
The razing of the Collins Park pool was one item Collins used to emphasize his point — saying it never would have happened under his watch, adding that he would turn recreation over to a public-private partnership. Bell responded that the pool was in such poor shape that opening it would have risked the lives of youth swimming there and the city did not have the money to renovate it.
$8 million or $48 million?
The candidates were at odds over the amount of the budget deficit when Bell took office four years ago. Bell says there was a $48 million deficit, which has been eliminated, while Collins says the deficit was $8 million.
Bell says the priorities of his first term were balancing the budget, restoring a depleted rainy day fund, improving infrastructure, and boosting safety forces manpower. He stressed that the budget was balanced without raising taxes and staying “within the guidelines” of what citizens wanted.
Bell says the city dedicated more than $153 million to roadway infrastructure, hired 190 police officers and 192 firefighters since taking office in 2010 and reduced crime 22 percent since 2012 when the city implemented its Toledo Community Initiative to Reduce Violence program.
Press General Manager John Szozda, the forum moderator, noted that the average East Toledo home sale price in 2004 was $46,284, but for the first nine months of this year it fell to $15,159.
“We have to create an environment that allows home values to rise,” Bell said. “Obviously, what has happened in the national economy, and Toledo is not exempt from that, is that there has been a reduction in home values throughout the United States.”
Bell said since 2010, the city and the Lucas County Land Bank have demolished 1,571 buildings, including 135 houses in East Toledo. Using federal funds, 131 new housing units have been constructed, another 338 have been rehabilitated, and another 313 are in progress of rehabilitation.
Collins noted that 54 percent of Toledo’s homes are not owner-occupied. Szozda, in stating his question about home-ownership, added that a California real estate firm purchased 40 Toledo properties, including many in East Toledo, which adds to the home ownership dilemma. One local real estate company averages five sales per month to such investors.
“It certainly displays a quality of life that is lost in the city of Toledo,” Collins said.
Bell notes that the Department of Neighborhoods has provided rental assistance to 65 clients and a down-payment assistance program has helped 27-first time homeowners achieve home ownership.
“It isn’t that the mayor or anybody else doesn’t care about trying to get people to purchase their homes,” Bell said. “It’s about creating an environment that allows them to be able to buy a house.”
Bell noted that we need to find jobs that are sustainable for more than a couple years so they can afford to purchase homes instead of renting. The mayor said 30 new businesses have come to Toledo in the past year, but marketing efforts need to be sustained.
“I think we’re starting to get people back to work. We’re starting to get businesses that will come to the city of Toledo, where it’s allowing for us to now start to recreate ourselves. We’re doing the things that I think are necessary from the standpoint of being able to recreate the infrastructure. We’re fixing the roads out there, we’re trying to get some of the native housing that needs to be demolished out of here, and so it takes time, but it’s a matter of gradually building the quality back to where it was at.
“We went through a hard time. It takes time to turn things around,” Bell continued. “But, as I was riding here on Broadway and on roads on this particular side of town, we’re making the roads and this portion of our city better. So, we just need to keep doing the things that we are doing. Now that we have our budget stabilized, we can actually approach this in a more aggressive way, but for a while there we were in a bad way.”
There were new ideas, too — Collins said he would like to see a plan to build an electric train from International Park to the new Great Lakes Museum come to fruition. He said the idea has been kicked around for two years, and the train would reenergize plans to develop the 127-acre Marina District.
Bell said the rest of the world needs to have a better understanding of where Toledo is — something his administration is working on.
“We are sitting here at I-80/90, and I-75 runs both north and south, and so as a city itself, Toledo is sitting at probably the most prime location in the United States,” Bell said. “But we have been very much under marketed. We have now done the things necessary to, in some way, make people aware that Toledo exists. It’s not as simple as making something shovel-ready, but letting people know Toledo exists.”
Collins commended the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority and industrial development happening at the Chevron property on Front Street in East Toledo, but he said that the city needs to market itself differently.
“We should get back to the shipbuilding that we had in the past — an environment that was very productive to the city of Toledo,” Collins said. “There is no explainable reason why Toledo has been for decades an underachieving city. There are excuses for that, but there is no reason.”