Bell: Toledo will maintain collaborative approachWritten by Mike Bell | | email@example.com
Preparing to deliver my third state of the city address has served as an opportunity to reflect on the things we have accomplished in the first half of my term as well as the things I would yet like to achieve in my remaining time as mayor. Our position in 2012 has shown improvement in many areas since I’ve taken office, but there continue to be challenges we need to address to ensure our citizens we are working as effectively as possible on their behalf to deliver the services they deserve.
The economy and its effects on the budget have proven to be our biggest challenge during the past two years, and that is because money impacts our ability to provide service in every other sector of the city. Despite a projected $48 million deficit when we took office in 2010, we have worked to overcome depleted revenues and rainy-day funds by divesting unproductive and unprofitable city assets and cutting nonpersonnel costs. We did not introduce new or increased taxes. We even managed to avoid mass layoffs and continued hiring police and firefighters.
The budget continues to be a challenge and we continue to look for new ideas to ensure that not only are basic city services funded, but also quality of life programs like parks, recreation and senior centers. I look forward to a day when we can be assured that these services are all fully funded and we can again begin depositing money into a rainy-day fund to build a financial future for the next generation.
Ongoing hiring in our safety services must be a priority and my administration has made it one of the highest as we compile budgets. Despite decreased revenues and increasing demand for services, we have continued hiring police officers and firefighters since I took office. My administration has hired 79 police officers and 97 firefighters; in 2012, we will hire another class of 30 police officers and 30 fire recruits.
For too many years, no new police recruits were hired despite ongoing retirement of senior officers in the department. In 2009, the city even laid off 75 officers. Today we are seeing the effects of that depletion of manpower. We will continue to build our ranks in the police department. My goal is to reach 600 sworn officers before the end of 2013. It is a steep challenge, but I believe it is achievable and it will remain a priority for my administration.
We must continue to build our fire ranks as well. The merger with the Ottawa Hills Fire Department provided us with an additional fire station and 10 skilled firefighters who today continue to provide compassionate and professional fire protection and emergency medical services to the city. We are also building a new fire station on Toledo’s east side. The new fire station will be strategically positioned to respond to our citizens, the new Hollywood Casino Toledo and the Toledo Refining Company. This new building is possible thanks in part to a federal grant. It will serve the city well and provide a facelift for the Fassett and Oak neighborhood where it is located.
We continue to work to beautify neighborhoods across the city and remove blight. In 2011, the city surpassed all recent records and demolished 412 units that were bringing down our neighborhoods. Despite tough budgets we have worked to maintain parks, make sure pools are open in each council district and make summer recreation activities available for young people and senior centers for our aging population.
The private sector is contributing as well. Columbia Gas of Ohio invested $18 million in new capital in 2011 to upgrade infrastructure in Toledo. It will invest another $20 million in 2012. Businesses and volunteer organizations have adopted gardens and flower pots around the city to provide a pop of color on Downtown streets and neighborhood boulevards.
And finally, our own Department of Neighborhoods is going through restructuring. An internal review showed that changes were needed in this department and some initial modifications have been made. More will come. New leadership continues to evaluate staff and procedures in the department. My primary goal in reviewing this department and making the changes that have followed is to preserve the federal funding that comes to Toledo for neighborhood and community development. We will continue with this process to ensure that happens and that we are thorough in addressing the problems.
Still to come
Toledo still faces budget constraints as our revenues catch up and we pursue structural changes to reduce our annual expenditures. Locally and nationally, the economy continues to lag behind 2007’s.
We will maintain a collaborative approach to economic development. Whether we are working with other agencies or our regional neighbors, it is time Toledo accepts that we are interdependent with other Northwest Ohio communities. We have many resources to market in this area, including our water and land. Working with partners around the region we will find a way to preserve these assets for our citizens, but also ensure that they are shared equitably in a manner that preserves our infrastructure and attracts new development.
As our revenues increase and our debt decreases we will be able to make a greater investment in capital improvements. In 2012, the city will pursue a $28 million capital program that includes major street and residential road resurfacing. While we continue to rely on the CIP fund to balance the budget, we will work smarter and more efficiently to ensure that roads are maintained.
I still love this job. Every day is a new challenge and a new reward. I appreciate the chance to serve my city and I thank you for that opportunity.
Michael P. Bell is Mayor of the City of Toledo. Call him at (419) 245-1004 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.