In a day-long meeting this week, the Toledo City Council and department heads explored what city goals they might try to accomplish, and how to raise the revenue to do them.
Topping the list – getting a better list of substandard housing around town. Mayor Ralph Grutzmacher said the city is at a disadvantage in making sure housing, especially low income housing, meets minimum standards. He said the county handles all the building permits and the issuing of occupancy certificates that determine that those standards are met, mainly with new housing. But there’s a substantial number of “home improvements” that are done without a building permit nor a certificate of occupancy. He also pointed out that Toledo can only afford a one-day-a-week code enforcement officer and there is a lot of ground to cover – and not all building code violations are visible from the street. Grutzmacher says he believes that there are many, many building code violations among Toledo’s housing stock and that many add-ons or other renovations to existing homes are homeowner-performed or contracted out without first acquiring building permits nor followed up with any official final inspection to certify that the construction complies with safe buildings codes and designs.
As for public property, the council decided that the city ought to try to:
* Find ways to fund the town’s roadway upgrades as outlined in the recent revision to the transportation plan.
* Repair A Street at 1st.
* Find a way to repair the town’s horribly jarring railroad crossings.
* Continue work on Toledo’s water, sewer and wastewater upgrades.
* Acquire the old West Coast Bank building on Business 20 next to JC Market, with an eye to making it the new city hall and police department. Funding is going to be quite the hat trick. Sale or lease of surplus city property might help defray some of the cost. What to do with the soon-to-be “old city hall” is a question mark as is any idea of doing major repairs to the building if it’s just going to be disposed of in the near future. However a costly roof job may be unavoidable.
* Infill areas where there are no sidewalks.
* Find funding to pave city-owned gravel streets and offer opportunities for residents to fund the paving of private streets – local improvement districts being one option.
* Clarify upgrades to the city swimming pool and target a revenue source.
* Finish pedestrian improvements at the foot of Main Street.
* Make the Toledo Police Department more secure – security cameras and other devices.
* Upgrade the city’s website – make it crystal clear the town is NOT Toledo, OHIO!
Make the website more user friendly and make it a more efficient communications tool aimed at broader public understanding of how the city operates and delivers services to the community.
* Upgrade city government’s phone system as well as 9-1-1 emergency dispatch.
* Begin a process of establishing a regional “live fire” training facility based in Toledo for use by Toledo and surrounding fire departments.
Other goals include expanded programming at the Toledo Library beyond today’s considerable amount of children’s programming – like teen and adult reading circles or groups that explore all forms of knowledge that enlightens and provokes the imagination. Also, follow through on the creation of a Toledo dog park, disc golf course near the library, park improvements throughout the city and seek grants to build scattered covered but walless structures that would allow people to enjoy parks and outdoor picnics, even when it’s raining. Some could be built with community and business donations – complete with sparkling plaques with donors’ names on them as a long-term community thank-you for their generosity.
Now…it will no doubt continue to be the case that in order to even begin to accomplish these goals, the money the city already has on hand will have to be used in ever-more creative and collaborative ways – more progress for the buck. There was talk of also of raising revenues through eventually enacting a bump up in the local gas tax as Newport did some years back. Mayor Grutzmacher pointed out that Newport raised its gas taxes three cents a gallon but Toledo did not, yet gas prices at the pump are the same in both towns – except Toledo doesn’t get the added revenue.
Another method of raising revenue is through a more aggressive program of annexation of areas within the town’s urban growth zone, or boundary; areas that would be expected to become part of the City of Toledo and thereby bring their property tax revenues with them.
Other revenue-raising ideas include selling off city-owned lands that have little likelihood of benefitting the city other than being falling into the hands of private buyers who would then pay property taxes on them.
As for paying for Toledo Pool improvements and upgrades, the idea was raised that the city might explore creating an independent parks and recreation special district. It would have its own taxing and spending powers to ensure that the Toledo Pool and other recreation facilities, which are used by residents who live inside and outside of Toledo, contribute to maintenance, upgrades and eventual replacement of those facilities.
These and even more goals, mixed with various community musings, will be the subject of public comment and suggestions at the next Toledo City Council meeting which is Wednesday, January 15th, at City Hall, beginning at 7:00pm.