Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Stuck on stupid: Toledo City Council and Libbey High School

The news over the weekend and as of the Toledo Public School Board and Toledo City Council meetings this week is that a 'deal' has been worked out to preserve part of the Libbey High School campus.

As part of the efforts of the TPS board to reduce their costs along with the new school building project, the decision was made to close and demolish Libbey High School. Several people, including some alumni, have fought the effort citing various reasons including the historic nature of the building and the potential harm the empty space would do to the neighborhood.

Over the past year or so, these individuals have formed a group and tried to get TPS board members to change their mind. Having no success in that regard, they then began looking elsewhere for 'help,' going all the way to the federal government by way of Rep. Marcy Kaptur.

The basic problem they've faced is that there is plenty of want and desire for doing something with the school building, but no money. Surprise!

But now it appears that TPS has found a win in the agreement to turn over part of the campus - the field house, skill center and football stadium - to the City of Toledo .... for only $1 million. What a bargain!

According to news reports, TPS would go ahead with tearing down the school building, construct a wall to separate the empty lot from the property to be sold to the city and then front the money for a heating/cooling system for the buildings to be sold. Currently, the field house and skill center share the heating/cooling system with school building, so a new one would have be constructed if those two buildings are to be of any use.

The deed would also contain a prohibition on charter schools in the purchased building.

Deputy Mayor Steve Herwat told city council that this was a 'much needed' facility.

Really??? Did you know there was a huge need for the city to have a field house, skill center and football stadium? I didn't - and I'll bet most of the residents of the city didn't either.

Apparently, though, the city runs a winter basketball program and would like to have a dedicated facility for that program. Do they not remember "The Hoop" project that failed miserably???

In case you only remotely remember this venture, let me remind you. In 2000, a private developer broke ground on a 43,000 square foot facility designed to provide 24-hour access to basketball. It also included a fitness facility and was located on Manhattan Boulevard near Colony in the north side of town. The city leased the property to the private developer for $500 - and then provided various tax breaks for the development.

In return for building the facility, the developer claimed that the city was supposed to house its recreation programs there, but that never happened and, by 2003, the owners were threatening to close it.

Over the years, others did step in and try to make a go of the venture, but they, too, failed. I don't know if there is anything operating in the building today, but the city does still own the land and currently owes about $39,000 in taxes on the property.

So the question I'd ask City Council about their grandiose plans to purchase part of the Libbey campus is this: why would you purchase these buildings when you already own land that has a similar type of building on it?

Of course, the first question that should be asked is: Why in the world would the City of Toledo even remotely consider purchasing a piece of property when it's in a concerted effort to sell off property it already owns???? There is no logic or reason or even common sense in entertaining the potential purchase of property when the city cannot afford to maintain the ones it already has and has been trying to sell them. Getting out of the property ownership business is, clearly, the correct thing for the city to do. So why would it go against what it's doing on one hand to actually do the opposite with the other hand?

Can you say stuck on stupid?

The next question is whether or not there is any money to go forward with this - and clearly that answer is no.

Yes, the city has a balanced budget for 2011, but each year we're told we're facing deficits and that money needs to be raised or diverted in order to meet our yearly obligations. The city has been spending more than it takes in for a significant number of years.

We've had our trash tax raised to where it's now $8.50 for people who recycle despite promises that it would be reduced to zero by now.

We've extended (for more than 20 years!) the temporary 3/4% payroll income tax because council didn't use it as a 'temporary' source of income, but has come to rely upon it for the yearly expenses of the city. In fact, needing even more money, council actually went to the voters to get permission to divert the portion of the tax intended for capital improvements into the general fund. So we're spending money intended for long-term needs to meet the daily obligations of the spenders that run our city.

In March, our water and sewer rates increased because there just wasn't enough money coming in.

And we've got unmet needs with no source of revenue for them - everything from our roads (which are in deplorable shape) to future contractual obligations for city unions.

If there is $1 million sitting around somewhere waiting to be spent, then how about funding a reduction in the trash tax first - that, at least, would benefit everyone and not just a few.

But the city might not actually have $1 million available. According to this news report:

Mr. Herwat pointed to the city's balanced budget, saying the city may either budget payments over three years, or float a short-term note to pay for the improvements up-front. (emphasis added)

Are you kidding me? The city may actually *borrow* money to go forward with this???

And just who, exactly, would benefit from this purchase? It certainly isn't the entire city, that's for sure.

I look through various news reports, but found none that identify how many people make up the Libbey Community Preservation Association - the group formed to keep the school. One 'save Libbey' Facebook page has 666 members; another has only 30 'likes.'

So, for the sake of argument, let's say there are 200 people actively interested in preserving the school, or parts of it. The population of the Toledo, according to the 2009 Census numbers, is 316,179. So .06% of the city could be said to be interested in this deal. Not even 1/10th of a percent of the population!!!

And for this small amount, council and the administration are considering expending $1 million???

The school board, however, certainly likes the idea. They'd get rid of a group of people who've been pestering them over their decision; they'd get rid of the property they've been spending to maintain; and they'd save political face for finding a 'solution' that just pushes the problem on to someone else. What's not to like?

There is no logic, reason or common sense in this endeavor. There is only a lack of political will to say 'no' to a small group of vocal individuals who want the public sector to do for them what they don't have the funds to do for themselves.

Council will hold a committee meeting on this next week and you need to let your opinions be known. The meeting is Tuesday, May 3, at 1:00 p.m. in city council chambers at 1 Government Center. If you cannot make the meeting, be sure to call the members of City Council (419-245-1050) or email them. Their email address is firstname.lastname@toledo.oh.gov and the list of members is available here.

Don't let a loud, but tiny number of people bully the council into spending money that isn't in the best interest of the city as a whole - or that we don't have.

3 comments:

skeeter1107 said...

Excellent Post.

Maggie Thurber said...

thank you!

Chuck Greer said...

This and so many things that the city/state/federal "gummint"does just like this are the reason we decided to tell Great Britain "NO MORE"--Taxation without Representation. I have no one in the city, it seems, looking out for my taxes (yes I am a Toledo resident...)in any fiscally responsible manner, no way, no how, no time. "They" spend however the hell they want, don't they?!?

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