Pounds: Bid in the balanceWritten by Tom Pounds | President / Publisher | email@example.com
Each year, the Lucas County Auditor’s Office is required by law to publish a list of delinquent land tax notices in a local publication.
Last year, the notices were published by Toledo Free Press, the first time a free weekly newspaper has published Lucas County’s list.
Between January and March, delinquent land taxes owed in Lucas County were reduced by $10.7 million, according to county records. That’s $3.9 million more than the average amount recouped the previous four years and it was done at almost half the cost to taxpayers.
This year’s bids were opened Nov. 5. After reviewing bids from The Blade and Toledo Free Press, Lucas County Auditor Anita Lopez recommended Toledo Free Press publish the list. However, the final decision is up to the Lucas County Commissioners, who plan to vote on the recommendation Nov. 18.
The numbers would seem to make the choice easy.
Toledo Free Press bid $163,455 to publish the list in our Sunday paper. The Blade bid $377,137 for a weekday publication, or $397,223 to run the first of two lists on a Sunday.
Toledo Free Press has a Sunday circulation of 80,766, with a Lucas County circulation of 66,514. The Blade has a daily circulation of 59,035 (50,035 in Lucas County) and a Sunday circulation of 76,780 (63,498 in Lucas County), according to 2013 audit reports.
Our bid would save Lucas County taxpayers at least $213,000 and deliver to more homes.
It’s also worth noting that taxpayers who wish to see the information they have paid to publish would get that information at no cost with Toledo Free Press while they would have to pay for it (again) to read it in the daily newspaper.
Plus, while a daily newspaper comes and goes in one day, Toledo Free Press is available on racks throughout the county all week in addition to our home-delivered copies. With the list running once per week for two consecutive weeks, that’s 14 consecutive days of availability in Toledo Free Press compared to two days for The Blade. The list would also be published free online at toledofreepress.com and in our digital edition.
Toledo Free Press became eligible to publish legal notices with the signing into law of Ohio House Bill 153 by Gov. John Kasich in October 2011. The legislation eliminated the link between charging for newspapers and being permitted to publish legal notices. It opened the legal publication business to any “newspaper of general circulation” that publishes at least once a week and meets other criteria, all of which Toledo Free Press satisfies. The bill also requires the newspaper to offer its best classified rate.
Since then, The Village of Ottawa Hills, City of Toledo, City of Sylvania, Monclova Township, Lucas County Metropolitan Housing Authority, Toledo Public Schools, Metroparks of Toledo Area and Washtenaw County have published legal notices in Toledo Free Press.
Two years ago, Lopez recommended this contract be awarded to The Blade, even though Toledo Free Press’ bid was much lower ($86,100 compared to The Blade’s $330,617), citing Toledo Free Press’ lower circulation in areas such as Neapolis and Curtice.
“[In 2012] I thought it was important to go with the broader circulation because of what we were doing,” Lopez told Toledo Free Press earlier this year. “The most important reason why this ad has to occur is to protect property rights. That goes beyond the bottom-line dollar. You have to balance that, but when we’re saying, ‘You’re delinquent to the point where we can take your property,’ this becomes the last call to the public to get in here and pay your taxes. That, to me, is lost in the process. Those were my concerns.”
To address those concerns, Toledo Free Press adjusted circulation and agreed to expand home delivery during the two weeks the notices would run.
Last year, Toledo Free Press was the only publication to submit a bid and published the notices at a cost of $168,025. The results demonstrate Toledo Free Press can more than handle the job.
Between 2009-12, the notices were published by The Blade at an average cost of $321,000. In those years, an average of $6.8 million in taxes was recouped each year between January and March following the publication of the notices, according to county records.
The county paid The Blade $339,935 to run the notices in 2009, $287,135 in 2010, $347,272 in 2011 and $309,870 in 2012. Between January and March of the following years, delinquent taxes owed dropped $6.8 million in 2010, $6.4 million in 2011, $6.9 million in 2012 and $7.1 million in 2013.
Last year, Lopez was pressured — she declined to say by whom — to reopen bidding after the bidding period had ended and Toledo Free Press’ bid had been revealed. To her credit, she said no.
“I was definitely asked to reconsider, asked would I object to re-advertizing the bid or allowing this bidding to be reopened last year and I said, ‘No, I think we move forward,’” Lopez told Toledo Free Press earlier this year.
“We had an eligible paper that met the qualifications, that had met the concerns from 2012. And the numbers had already been made public, so whoever would compete against that bid would know how to lowball them. You just can’t do that. That undermines the entire process of a public bid.”
Lopez also noted last year’s numbers showed “good results.”
“The numbers speak for themselves. We are saving money,” Lopez said. “It’s very hard to argue with that.”
Lopez is right — the numbers do speak for themselves.
Awarding this year’s bid to Toledo Free Press would save county taxpayers almost a quarter million dollars while delivering the same, if not better, results.
All local governments are experiencing a financial squeeze and taxpayers expect government entities to spend their money wisely. Lucas County faces overcrowding at an outdated jail that will need to be replaced in the near future and has unplanned expenses from the region’s water advisory this summer. There’s also the city’s recent decision to start charging most offenders under state laws rather than municipal ordinances — a move expected to save the city $4 million to $5 million a year, while costing the county the same amount. It seems fiscally irresponsible for the county to needlessly add to that burden by paying $213,000 more than necessary to publish these legal ads.
We’re pleased Lopez has confidence in our ability to do the job and we believe we’ve earned the chance to run the list again. We trust the county commissioners will accept her recommendation.
Thomas F. Pounds is president and publisher of Toledo Free Press. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.