Income tax revenue is up, but money the City of Toledo gets from the state local government fund, estate tax, and tangible personal property tax is down or disappeared entirely.
That means the city’s estimated tax receipts for 2012 and 2013 are down. Meanwhile, East Toledo residents say they are seeing their streets, neighborhoods, and infrastructure crumble around them.
About 25 people, mostly residents, showed up for a town hall forum hosted by District 3 Councilman Mike Craig at the East Toledo Family Center Wednesday night.
“I wanted to see what they had to say, and if they had any answers to any of the questions that we had. All over town, the streets (are bad) and they send people out to do things and they don’t follow through,” said lifetime East Toledo resident Vicki Jacobs.
Jacobs complained about a pot hole in front of her driveway that she said needs to be correctly repaired, despite her attempts to contact the city about it beginning in March last year.
Jacobs said it was originally fixed in September, but she claims it was “shoddy work” and now there is a depression forming where the patch was. She is not satisfied with the work and is asking to have it re-patched. Jacobs claims every time a car passes across the pothole, her home, built in 1929, shakes.
Even though garbage pickup is now privatized, one lady complained about residents who leave trash in their yards.
“And you sit and you sit and you look at it for weeks and weeks outside,” she said. “A guy across the street had mattresses out front and I told him all you had to do was call (to have it taken away) and he wouldn’t call and I had to look at that for four months. I maintain my property and I take care of my property and I’m sick and tired of looking at these properties that don’t get cleaned up.”
One man complained about putting public safety so far ahead of infrastructure and nuisance abatement. Out of $235 million in projected revenue, the city’s proposed budget for 2012 includes $158 million for safety (police, fire, courts).
“I’ve got the utmost respect for police and fire, but police and fire are getting there after the fact something has happened,” he said. “You spend that much for it and I don’t think you’re getting the biggest bang for your buck.”
Herwat responded, “We’re doing everything we can with our resources. We only have so much money to go around and we strive to do the best we can.”
Craig had a verbal confrontation with another woman who complained he wasn’t returning her e-mails. The woman left the forum after Craig insisted he had been responding and then he inferred that some of her e-mails may have been disrespectful.
Craig said listening to people getting verbal about neighborhood issues is okay with him.
“That is alright. That’s what democracy is all about. We’ve had some complaints, but most of them are legitimate complaints and we try to address them,” Craig said.
“It’s always important to let your constituents know what your budget priorities are, where we are getting our money, give them input on where we are spending it, and let them tell us what they think we’ve done well, or in this case, not so well. It’s important for us to listen to,” Craig continued. “We have some problems with nuisance abatement, but we’re changing some things around and hopefully it will get better next summer.”
Deputy Mayor of Operations Steve Herwat spent more time at the podium addressing residents’ issues than any other city official.
“It’s our job to provide public services, and if we have citizens like tonight who have specific complaints, that’s why we have people from our various departments to get with them one on one to find out their specific complaint and we’ll do our best to address it,” Herwat said.
Herwatt and Craig admit that with less and less dollars, it’s getting increasingly difficult to keep up with infrastructure maintenance, like street and water system repair.
“People are concerned about their alleys, they are also concerned about their streets, but we still can’t address those at the cost of not having our safety forces,” Craig said.
Herwat added, “It is tough, but we’re committed to do the best job that we can within the resources that we have. Certainly, the mayor and our council doesn’t want to propose any increases in taxes so we have to be smarter in the way we provide public services. Get-togethers like tonight where we can hear directly from people who pay our salaries is very important.”
Because of budget cuts, the city has gone from 4,200 employees to 2,600. Herwat says Toledo has the lowest number of employees per 1,000 residents of any city in Ohio. One resident who said he had been involved in block watch organizations said he doesn’t even know who the local policemen are anymore.
“I would like to go back to the good old days when everybody knew their policeman, but our police is stretched very thin. Their primary concern is to respond to calls,” Herwat said.
In March, Toledo voters will vote on a three-quarter percent income tax renewal that generates $51 million per year, mostly for public safety. It was first passed in 1982.
Craig believes East Toledo neighborhoods need to begin turning around before it’s too late.
“Do I think the neighborhoods are getting better? No. I think we are on the right track to addressing some of the problems,” Craig said. “I’m going to press for more money for demolitions next year and I’m going to press for more money for nuisance abatement next year because those are things that need to happen.
“We need to maintain our neighborhoods in order to keep people in the city and keep them from leaving. People don’t leave from downtown, they leave from their neighborhoods, and that’s something that we need to address.”
Craig also answered questions about the 127-acre Marina District waterfront development. Last year, the Chinese firm Dashing Pacific, which owns about half the property, held a groundbreaking. Residents say they have not seen the developers engaged in any construction on the property.
“I’m going to try and get a meeting with (Dashing Pacific partner) Jimmy Lu the first of the year. I saw him just before Christmas and talked to him and hopefully we can see what is going on,” Craig said.
Herwatt said the developers were in the process of creating a master plan. Herwat and Craig both hope vertical construction will begin rising from the ground in the middle of 2012. They added that the Chinese also have an option to purchase the former Toledo Edison power plant on the property for redevelopment.