Settling old tabsWritten by Lisa Renee Ward | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Two decades ago, the City of Toledo uttered the governmental equivalent of J. Wellington Wimpy’s saying, “I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.” But it wasn’t a hamburger the city was seeking; it was $3 million in Urban Development Action Grant (UDAG) funding to buy what is now called the Superior Street Garage.
Supporters of the Toledo Lucas County Housing Fund sought a campaign promise during the 2009 election from the candidates for mayor and at-large Council seats, asking, if elected, would they “commit to dispersing the Superior Garage profits” to the Housing Fund. Mike Bell, Joe McNamara, Adam Martinez, George Sarantou and Steve Steel were among those who said “yes.”
On July 13 at agenda review, in response to a question from McNamara on the status of the 2008 payment owed to the Housing Fund, Deputy Mayor Steve Herwat said they were in the process of meeting with the group to resolve the issue. There was no indication that the administration was considering changing its position.
Now, the administration and Council are saying it is not obligated to pay the Housing Fund, or if it was, it has paid enough. The accomplishments of the fund are also being questioned.
In 1990, Toledo City Council passed a resolution that expressed its intent to fund the Housing Fund: “shall be, at least, the sum of all net profits over time, which discounted by a rate of 12 percent per year back to the date of closing of the UDAG grant, would have a value of $3,000,000.”
In 1996, the city decided to turn over management of its parking garages and other related functions to the “Downtown Parking Authority” (DPA). In 1997, the promise to repay the UDAG money resurfaced when the city announced plans to expand the Superior Street Garage.
Council in 1998 passed Ordinance 957-98 titled, “Implementing the will of Toledo City Council expressed in Resolution 5-90.” It created language for funding the Housing Fund and appropriated a payment of $268,000. One part that is now at issue: “That City Council shall, in each year subsequent to 2005, annually appropriate to the Toledo Lucas County Housing Trust Fund over and above the amount that would otherwise have been allocated to neighborhood programs, the net revenue from the Phase 1 (pre-1998) portion of the Superior Street Garage. If the funds attributable to the net revenues of Phase 1 of the Superior Street Garage are less than $50,000, the allocation shall be made from other appropriate sources of funds.”
A 2004 memo from Law Director Barbara Herring to Jay Black, Mayor Jack Ford’s chief of staff, stated the DPA would have to provide a separate accounting for the Superior Street Garage for the city to meet the requirements of the 1998 ordinance. In a 2005 document, she states the DPA was directed to do this starting in 2006. Herring acknowledged “lengthy and difficult negotiations” in 1997 to determine the net profits.
A committee hearing in December of 2009 revealed that the DPA was not separately accounting for the pre-1998 profits, but the city’s budget commissioner, Jane Boone, stated she had the breakdowns in revenue for the parking garage. The Mayor Carty Finkbeiner administration said the funding was owed. New legislation was left in committee for the incoming Bell administration and Council to determine.
At the Aug. 3 Council meeting, McNamara attempted to relieve the December action from committee, but he did not have the necessary votes. There was an audible response from the crowd that action was not taken at that meeting. At least one member of the audience shouted, “shame.” Council instead scheduled a Committee of the Whole meeting for 1 p.m. Aug. 11.
The city ate the hamburger, joyfully proclaiming how amazing it was, as the juices ran down its face, but is now claiming it never promised to pay for the hamburger, or if it did, it wasn’t that good and it’d also like to inspect the kitchen. Whether Council will settle the tab or make a delayed dine-and-dash will not be known until at least Aug. 17.
Toledo Free Press contributor Lisa Renee Ward operates the political blog glasscityjungle.com.