Toledo City Council has three quarters of a million dollars (that's $750,000 for those of you who like actual numbers) that they haven't yet spent - so of course they've decided it has to spent yet this year, one way or the other.
Mayor Mike Bell put forth a plan to spend the money to bring in some dirt and do some grading as the beginning part of an overall project to 'transform' Promenade Park into a 'destination' point in downtown Toledo. The plan calls for removing trees that block the view of the water from Summit Street, replacing them with tiers of terraces, building a stage and adding a water feature.
Perhaps they've forgotten that we already have that exact same design next to Imagination Station (the old COSI, which used to be Portside)?
But this post isn't just about how similar 'destination' points have failed to bring people into downtown Toledo. As Tom Waniewski said:
“Our image is not based on what a downtown looks like,” Mr. Waniewski chided. “Our image is how do we treat the residents who pay for these services, and paved roads is a lot bigger priority than Promenade Park.”
No, this post is primarily about the stupidity of those in Government Center who think that all available money must be spent, rather than held for higher priorities.
The gist of the matter is that some on city council (and, it appears, a significant amount of Toledoans) believe that road repair is a function of government and should be one of government's higher priorities. Or, at least, certainly higher than a new park project.
Others, including the Mayor, believe that since the money cannot be spent this year on road repair, we should spend it elsewhere. Even at-large Councilman Rob Ludeman, a Republican, voted to spend the money on the park:
But Councilman Rob Ludeman agreed with the mayor’s position and called putting the money into Promenade Park a “no brainer.” He said the park improvements could happen right away but more street repairs would have to wait until after the winter months.
“How much work can be done on street repair this year? Basically none,” Mr. Ludeman said. “My feeling is Promenade Park has been needing upgrades for a long time. Downtown is making a resilient comeback, and work can be done on that throughout the winter.”
Well, if you need a new roof on your home and you only have saved up a portion of the costs, do you decide to spend that portion on a vacation simply because you can't do the whole roof before the winter comes? Or do you decide to keep saving that money - adding to it - so you have enough to pay for the new roof when the work can be done the following spring?
That's a 'gotcha' question, in case you missed it, because common sense and general fiscal accountability say you continue to save.
Yes, "it's only" $750,000 and city staff says that will "only" pave about two miles. Well, that's okay with me. I'd rather have two miles than some dirt and grading at a park - wouldn't most people?!?
In fact, even though I don't live in the area, I'd nominate the stretch of Secor Road between Westgate and the I-475 overpass as one place to spend that 'limited' amount of money, even if they don't spend it until next spring.
But...but....but....this is economic development, the Mayor and at-large Councilmen Joe McNamara and Adam Martinez claimed:
"We're trying to create an environment here that is international, that will bring people to our city," the mayor told council. "The project at Promenade Park ... will make us money."
Mr. McNamara said the investment in Promenade Park would create a much-needed focal point in downtown Toledo that would help define the city and put it on the map. He described the disappointment he felt when he recently picked up a book about Ohio, only to find that just two or three pages mentioned Toledo.
"Investing in ourselves is a good idea," Mr. McNamara enthused. "We're trying to sell our city across the world ... I think it's important to dream and I think this is a great project."
Councilman Martinez echoed the mayor's analysis, arguing that investing in downtown would attract businesses and generate more money in private dollars from every dollar in public money spent.
Does anyone really believe that a new park and a second terraced stage area will bring in more businesses than taking care of the basic infrastructure of the city? Apparently, several city council members and the Mayor do. And how, exactly, will this park plan - not scheduled to be completed for several years, bring in money? Well, according to the supporters, businesses will want to relocate here because they can go to events on the waterfront. Yeah - right!
Businesses locate and grow in places where they can make money. They leave - or don't come in the first place - when government takes more of their money than it should and spends it on unnecessary things, that don't contribute to their ability to enhance their bottom line. Ask any owner of any successful business if they would make a decision on where to locate their business based upon a destination park that is only usable for maybe six months of the year. They'll probably laugh in your face.
As it stands right now, the Mayor exercised his line-item veto authority on the 7-4 decision by City Council to add the $750,000 to the $2.5 million already budgeted for street work. It will take nine votes to override the veto, which means that two of the councilmen who voted no (Ludeman, McNamara, Martinez and District 3 Councilman Mike Craig) need to realize the error of their ways and join with the other council members in voting for the road work. Or just one, if at-large Councilman Phil Copeland, who wasn't present for the original vote, decides roads trump parks.
The Mayor also plans to re-submit the Promenade Park spending plan to council. Even if council doesn't override the veto, they will still have to provide seven votes to spend the money on the park. If the seven who originally voted for the roads maintain their stance, the funding for Promenade Park will fail - as it should.
If you have an opinion, be sure to let the members of Toledo City Council know. Here is their contact information:
Council Office telephone number - good for all members of Council: 419-245-1020
Wilma Brown - Council President
District 1 (D)
D. Michael Collins
District 2 (Independent)
At Large (D)
District 3 (D)
District 4 (D)
At Large (R)
Adam J. Martinez
At Large (D)
At Large (D)
At Large (R)
At Large (D)
District 5 (R)
Lindsay M. Webb
District 6 (D)
I'm not sure of the original source of this money. According to some reports, the excess $750,000 is part of a loan for work at the Marina District - a loan that was supposed to have been repaid by the prior developer Larry Dillon. If this is, indeed, the case, then instead of spending the money, we should return it and not end up paying interest when we don't have to.
If this is actually borrowed money, then conversations about how to spend it should immediately cease.