Below are my notes that I typed as the little over two hour meeting took place at Waite High School, there was a wireless net connection but it was password protected…I’ve not done any editing, so these are my thoughts as the meeting took place.
They have this set up differently than previous budget meetings, there appears to be an attempt to have citizen input from each table with some items selected and those in attendance being able to vote.
Mayor Bell welcomed everyone, he described as the mayoral campaign went on how the budget deficit continued to grow with the day he was sworn in being at 40, now we are at 48 million dollars. People have asked how we got here, we got here by not making good business decisions, we take care of it by taking care of it now and not pass this on to later years.
Last year two economists estimated that the best we could hope to get in 2009 was 140 million, our budget was set at 169 million. The actual numbers once this was completed was 141. We are still behind as a deficit. This year we are trying to take care of 2009 and the deficit from 2010 and still some deficit left from 2008. People get mad and tell him what they don’t want. There is nothing new people will say here tonight as far as they don’t want, you need to decide what you do want.
If you have an idea of what you don’t want, tell him what you will do to replace that. He’s only been the mayor for two months, he’ll take the hits but we still have to balance the budget.
He is not so arrogant to not know he works for us. If there is resistance in being able to move forward, there is a back up plan but it’s not as good as what we have in front of us and it’s more painful. He said he started doing these meetings 30 days before he took office?
Tell him when this city has ever had a 48 million dollar deficit so when people think there is a real quick turnaround it isn’t. One of the unions had their finance people come in and they agreed with the books.
People have told you what they thought you wanted to hear, he could soft talk this, he is open to criticism but the bottom line is his job is to balance this budget. He’s live in this city for 49 years, he knows what this city can do and where it can be at. We are talking about a bridge for 18 months, maybe 24 then things will turn around, there are some large job potentials but if we allow ourself to go to bankruptcy all of those opportunities dissipate, no one will want to come here. We have to sustain ourselves for a short time until we can get back on track.
He was asked what the alternative plan, he said he chooses not to describe it yet. He said no one has heard it yet, the only thing left is major cuts in our staff, what is cut is how much is left to cut.
Louis Escobar said to participate you have to sit at a table, if you are not at a table you can not participate.
They then went over the basic things they wanted people to answer, they had a time limit as to questions like “what makes me the most mad about Toledo.”
The camera crews went from table to table, there was gentleman who was very angry, most of the media attention was focused on him. He took issue with the police being paid time and a half to go to court. It will be interesting to see what clips of tonight the media shows.
It will also be interesting to see at the end of this, how much information people actually learned about the proposed budget. In talking with some city officials while the tables were talking, it was fairly well accepted that there would be some “tweaking” of the mayor’s budget proposal.
Escobar said they wanted to have a list of the recurrent “themes” that each table was focusing on. Then they would pick one person to record and share their themes.
Common Themes –
Raises given by the Mayor was as a concern – they felt they should rescind the raises
Tax credit being eliminated
Fear of the next few months, they don’t know how 20 million could be “lost” in two months.
That the unions should not have to make concessions. Steve Cady tried to control the audience as people started talking over themselves, Escobar asked the media to please refrain while they were trying to hear from the tables.
There was a feeling that they could not trust whatever the elected officials said
The trash fee was felt to be too high
Some of the positives/uniques were discussed such as the Mud Hens, the Zoo, CDC’s
Concern about absentee landlords and nuisance properties especially related to owners who live out of town. The red light camera issue was raised and the lack of due process. One woman said she has a ticket and she’s not going to pay it.
The next 15 minutes will be informational.
Herwat covered why they could not do some things, like a sales tax, that they don’t have the ability to do that, as an example Gund Arena could be built with a sin tax but the General Assembly only gave a County with over a million population the ability to do that.
The City entered 2009 with a deficit from 2008 of two million dollars, and the City spent more than what it took in for 2009, 7 million dollars more. Hertwat said if it was not for the 2008/2009 deficit they would not have to eliminate the tax credit. They said that the budget the previous administration had was not realistic as far as revenue. They are predicting the recession will continue and they have lowered theirs to 136 million dollars.
They are going to spend in 2010 10 million less than was spent in 2009. Herwat said they asked the employees for concessions, the new trash system did not work as well as it was planned, they have people that are still putting bags next to the can. They have to send out another truck to pick up the bag. They have people who are leaving bags on the cans, so they have had to bring in extra phone calls and to make sure all of the trash is picked up, all of that is part of the 48 million dollar deficit. The Mayor said there would have to be shared sacrifice, that’s not a popular theme. They are going to reduce over time, they turned to the court judges and the clerk of courts, we have no control over their budget, the previous administration tried to cut their budget, they sued and surprise one group of judges ruled on a different groups of judges and they got their money. Hertwat said they took a different approach and gave them over 1 million dollars in savings, 700,000 of it was not already planned as a cut. Council eliminating festival fee waivers, it’s only $52,000 but every bit helps.
They’ve asked the Finance Director to help them more aggressively collect what is owed, over 3 million is owed in back taxes. There’s also money owed by accounts receivable other than income tax that’s several million. They are going to sell the docks, they are asking citizens to pay more for the cost of trash collection. The entertainment tax, if you go to a Mud Hens game it will cost 75 cents more for a ticket. It’s also a way to collect funding from those outside of Toledo. The red light booting was passed by Council that’s 1.2 million dollars, he stated this was not just a revenue enhancement it is a proven safety measure. He used Sarantou’s theme, why should those who break the law get away without paying.
Sunshine time limit supposedly on the elimination of the tax credit of three years. Subject of course to City Council. Herwat then talked about the concessions asked for by the unions. Employees including the administration are being asked to pay more for their medical insurance, court employees as an example pay nothing for their health insurance coverage. Those who pay only pay $25 per month for single coverage and $50.00 a month for family coverage. They are talking about a scale based on what the income level is, that would raise 2.6 million dollars.
Herwat said the alternative if they don’t balance the budget, the State of Ohio comes in and says if you can’t get your act together we’ll do it for you. If we can’t make payroll for 30 days fiscal emergency is declared. It took them 7 plus years to get out of it. Herwat said all of the elected officials no longer have a say in how money is spent. There will be a 7 person body appointed, the Mayor and the president of Council are the only two elected officials on that body. The other five are the State treasurer or designe, state budget director or designe and three other people appointed by the governor. Five don’t live in Toledo, Five who are not elected by you. They will tell City Council you can do this, you can’t do that. Herwat asked if we want to have the City’s finances two bureaucrats from Columbus make those decisions for you? That’s the start reality we face.
Then instead of asking a question, people were given a sheet to ask “what did we hear” and they can only ask one to three questions for tables so they can then have the last 15 minutes and vote on the ideas.
They then went through the questions –
Can the city prevent receivership if the unions don’t agree to concessions – 9 million dollar solution if 9 million dollars can be found somewhere – if they raise taxes by 9 million so their real answer is no – if they don’t do this they will not be able make payroll.
Herwat said what if people wanted the pool to open, it would not be up to council it would be up to the panel.
How long will the 15 dollar a month garbage fee last? Herwat said through 2012. 95,000 homes it generates over 10 million dollars.
How did the city get away with not balancing it’s budget 2008 legally why can’t they hold the mayor and the council legally for there. Bob McCloskey said from the back of the room there should have been a law suit. One member in the audience said they should take the property of the former mayor and council sell it. “Steve” said that was not his question, he wants to know how council and the mayor got away with the bullshit. They want to know if Council knew that – Herwat said the former Mayor told Council they were going to take in more revenue than they took in. “Steve” wanted to know if they were considering any legal action against the former Mayor and Council. Herwat said the mayor robbed it from other accounts – Herwat said they are examining exactly how that happened, they are looking to see what fund they robbed it from to spend more than they had. (That is an exact quote)
Herwat said he is the person who is accountable that everything comes across his desk.
Cost over runs on the trash collection, since December was light on snow, doesn’t that even out. Now that car manufacturers are recalling people that will increase their tax collection have they taken that into consideration. Herwat said snow and ice removal is not from the general fund so if they have a light winter assessments are lower, heavy winter, higher. 5.8 million last year in assessments.
If you cant take the money from the utility fund why are employees being asked to make concessions from the employees of the utilities? Herwat said it’s only fair – the employee said they are not the ones who are making the general fund be out of balance.
McLean said if there are a large number of recalls they will take that into consideration – 1,000 jobs brings in $700,000 in income tax revenue. The market for selling our debt is severely compromised if we don’t balance this budget. We have an investment rating, we are only one level from falling out of investment grade.
12.8 million total for a full collection of trash fee at 15.00 – resident was upset and said that you keep coming back. He felt they were not being honest. Cady tried to get him to stop but he did not want to stop, he was also upset that the Mayor did not stay he felt that it was a priority. McCloskey said if Cady would stop talking there would be more time.
She listened to the Mayor she doesn’t think there will be an end to it, the Mayor said on the radio he was not going to ask for a sunset clause. Herwat said the 3/4 ends in 2010. The temporary 3/4 was raised as an issue.
Cady then said he would keep this going longer than two hours since they had more questions. Herwat when asked about concessions, Herwat said he is a double dipper too when it was said Bell was a double dipper.
Another resident who said he was a disabled veteran if he is paying for the service give him the service, he shared his experiences with the water company. He felt the city should demonstrate they are going to provide services first before coming to them. Herwat said Bell has 9 people doing the job that the former mayor had 15 doing.
McCloskey asked what it was going to cost if the bond rating dropped, he said on the years he was on Council they protected the bond rating. Herwat said they were going to do everything they could to protect it.
The question of does the City partner with the County in any way – it was stated the City had a Health Department with the County. They have considered doing this with a variety of programs, such as recycling.
Several of those in the audience did not understand why we were paying for recycling. Herwat tried to explain that it’s not just the metal it’s the paper and the plastic. That it’s 30 tons, they are mandated by state law to recycle certain materials.
They then continued to take questions, they did not get to many of the solutions given the time frame. I’ll type up some of the material from the handouts tomorrow.