Ward: Waiting for the magic casino fairyWritten by Lisa Renee Ward | | email@example.com
When the Toledo CityParks Non-Expendable Trust Fund was created on April 23, 1991, a Toledo casino was 20 years in the future. Now, the city is counting on casino funds to replenish the fund.
The fund was created because in 1991, the city cut its budget for the Natural Resources Department and Recreation Division by $1.5 million.
“Toledo City Council has had a long-standing desire to establish a greater degree of funding stability in the Natural Resources Department,” was also cited as a reason for creating the fund in 1991.
The original amount appropriated was $3,227,730.14. That money came from estate taxes paid to the City of Toledo after the 1987 death of Paul Block Jr.
The first legislation to take money from the CityParks fund for the general fund was effective Jan. 2, 1992. The legislation stated it was because there was a projected general fund deficit in excess of $14 million — $1,479,333 was transferred to cover the costs of recreation programs for 1992.
In 1992 and 1994, legislation was passed to replenish the fund. Payments were made in 1993, 1994 and 1995 from the general fund, then stopped until 1998, 1999 and 2000. In 2000, the amount owed to the CityPark fund was $293,020.53.
After several more years of no payments, in 2003 a transfer of $1.3 million was made from the CityParks fund to the general fund. Every year since then, except for 2006, money has been transferred from the CityParks fund to the general fund.
At the Dec. 7 Youth, Parks, Recreation and Community Relations committee meeting, Acting Budget Commissioner Jane Boone said, “At the end of 2009, the balance of the Toledo CityParks Non-Expendable Trust Fund was $1,990,454. We expect at the end of 2010 the balance will be $1,030,038.30. The balance at the end of 2011 will be approximately $61,627.”
A spreadsheet obtained by Toledo Free Press states from 1991 to Nov. 30, 2010, the total dollar amount of interest and principle taken from the CityParks fund for the “operating fund” is $4,879,366.10 — $2,660,340.86 is listed as going from the CityParks fund to recreation operating costs during that same time period.
Councilman D. Michael Collins discussed the history of the CityParks fund.
“Over the period of time, administrations have reached into that trust fund and have used it for, I would say, a lending instrument, interest-free. Is that fair, Mr. Herwat?” he asked.
Deputy Mayor Steve Herwat said, “Yes.”
Collins asked how much of the fund was used for the $3.3 million trust fund budget line item to balance the budget.
City Finance Director Patrick McLean said “The $3.3 million to balance the budget was from all trust funds, that is separate and none of the Block Trust Fund [CityPark fund] is a part of that.”
But a short time later, McLean said an amended version of the budget shows the $3.3 million is now $4.3 million, which includes about $1 million from the CityParks fund.
Collins asked how the administration intended to reimburse the CityParks fund.
“Starting in 2012, with the receipt of the casino proceeds, the administration is committed to restore the $3.6 million original balance in the trust,” Herwat said.
Councilwoman Lindsay Webb said, “Funding recreation out of the Block money is unsustainable and the time has come to have a broader discussion about this community’s belief that recreation, parks, arts and culture are something that we value.
“I’m willing to support this, this year, but we need to look at how we fund recreation in the long term, this year,” she said.
During the Dec. 7 City Council meeting that took place after the committee meeting, Councilman Adam Martinez said, “So this is not taxpayer money, per se.”
“No, this is not taxpayer money, this is money that was collected under the estate tax laws of the state of Ohio,” Herwat said.
That could be questioned, since taxpayer dollars from the general fund were used to pay back the CityParks fund from which the interest and principle is now being taken.
It may be understandable that the city raided a trust fund that it did not have to pay interest on, but my family lives close to Highland Park, where area residents have been told for years that there was no money to fix its pools or the park.
It’s clear there was money, but different priorities existed during present and past administrations. I’m not confident in the magic casino fairy delivering funds back to the CityParks fund nor confident that once it’s returned, it won’t just be used as interest free “loan” money again.
Toledo Free Press contributor Lisa Renee Ward operates the political blog GlassCityJungle.com.
E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.