Tuesday, September 18, 2007

White Paper: Fixing Toledo

After 2 years of campaigning, some of the issues facing Toledo have become very clear and the resistance to deal with the issues by elected officials is often driven by a concern they may lose the backing of the unions and city employees. The last election highlighted the reality of this as the electorate did not vote. Those elected won by connections in the political and union arena, not by issues, so to survive as an elected official, there is logic in appeasing the political party and unions. However, this is not to the benefit of Toledoans and we need elected officials to work for the good of the city not the good of the unions. Though my venture into Toledo politics is over, my concerns are not.

We need a good school system but we don’t have one. The city can do everything right to grow economically, but it will not until the school system or alternative schools offer our children a good education. Middle-income families are fleeing Toledo to the suburbs to escape the ineffective public school system. The chokehold TFT (Toledo Federation of Teachers) has on the system inhibits creative, flexible and innovative programs.

We have more than enough revenue in the general budget, we just plain blew it when we negotiated the city labor contracts and gave away the bank. Residents of Toledo do not need to pay more taxes; we need to realign the employee compensation to reflect the market.

It is time to stop manipulating business opportunities to further political agendas. It does not take long for interested businesses to feel threatened and chose the suburbs to bypass Toledo politics.

The following is a list of recommendations offered for consideration by elected officials and residents of Toledo. Our community would be in a much better position if we approached the business of the City of Toledo as a business. The residents are the customers of City Government and we are not treated very well.

EDUCATION
Embrace charter schools and the voucher program, it is offering a much-needed alternative to a failing public school system and can be instrumental in retaining and recruiting families to Toledo. They also provide a buffer to the threat of teacher strikes. Criticizing charter schools because they are “for profit” is invalid as they must perform and meet the expectations of student’s parents or they will not stay in business.

TPS needs to earn back students through quality educational programs, not through squelching competition.

TPS personnel should observe successful charter schools as a learning experience not consider such visits a threat to TPS. The following quotes demonstrate the negative attitude regarding charter schools. Quote from TPS management personnel and an elected official: “it would be the same as a scab crossing the picket line” or “I wouldn’t step foot in one of those places”.

Send out a blind survey and ask the 60% of teachers and administrators of TPS why they don’t live in Toledo and also to those who do live in Toledo but send their children to private schools. They are the professionals in the industry; we need to understand why so many do not send their children to TPS and ask for recommendations to improve the system.

BUDGET
Taxpayers disapprove of the trash tax and threat of reduced services, as they should. Balance the budget by looking inward for cost savings not outward for more revenue. As the UAW recognized the necessity to adjust the contracts to retain auto industry jobs in this area, so likewise, the Union leaders representing city employees must recognize the same need with the city to keep the threat of privatization off the table. Without a realignment of city employee compensation, the electorate may very well revolt and demand privatization of services and refuse to pass the ¾% “temporary” payroll tax the city has enjoyed for over 15 years. Such recognition of reality and a partnership between the unions and the City is pro-union as it will ensure job retention while keeping the city healthy.

· Within two years, eliminate the 10% city pick up of the employee portion of payment to PERZ and provide a 5% pay increase
o First year: reduce by 5% the city pickup of the employee contribution to PERZ but provide an across the board 2.5% pay increase.
o Second year: again, reduce by 5% the city pickup of the employee contribution to PERZ but provide an across the board 2.5% pay increase.
· Effective Jan. 1, 2008, all city employees would contribute $100 per month towards their medical coverage and $20 co-pay for office visits and prescriptions.
· Establish a task force to study medical coverage programs offered by private industry in the surrounding area and modify the program accordingly.
· Establish a task force to study the general budget and determine what percent of the general budget should be applied to wages and benefit packages for police/fire and trash collection. This percent would be the benchmark for future contract negotiations.

BUSINESS & ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
· Stop bundling groups of legitimate businesses to vilify (i.e., convenience stores). If they do not comply with the laws, take the appropriate legal measures.
· Review the cost and frequency of inspections. They may increase city revenue, but at what cost to small business.
· Create a complete list of all yearly inspections and the inspection costs to determine whether they are necessary (they have dramatically increased in frequency and cost over the past few years). Those identified as frivolous and designed primarily to increase revenue should be eliminated.
· Bundle into one package all costs and permits required to establish a new business; establish one office to administer all the information, forms and communication for businesses, simplify this process.
· Eliminate the living wage law in Toledo. It is used to manipulate businesses as it is not uniformly applied and hinders our ability to encourage new business.

Work with Toledo hotels to create shopping packages as Bass Pro is completed to draw visitors into Toledo as well as Wood County. With regional cooperation with Wood County both communities would benefit by creating “mini-vacations” for visitors.

CITY BEAUTIFICATION
Seek more volunteer organizations to handle the beautification projects.

CITY GOVERNMENT:
· Reduce the size of council. Keep the 6 district seats but reduce at large to 2 seats. Residents need a representative who is accountable to them, without district seats, who would be accountable to their calls for service and how would the requests be assigned to an all “at-large” council. However, we need “at-large” seats to embrace all district issues and assimilate the needs into a citywide view of the requests.
· Do not reduce the pay for the Mayor; it must be attractive enough to draw quality candidates.
· Respond to requests for information and not use the “right to information” laws to delay response and avoid providing answers.
· Answer emails and phone calls.
· Embrace business and stop agreeing to additional fees to supplement the budget when there are shortages.
· NO NEW TAXES – hidden or otherwise.
· Responding to the hype of political candidates is detrimental to the well-being of Toledo and should be banned.
· The Administration would be more successful by operating and administrating with positive reinforcement rather than negative. The negative approach is tolerated but discourages open dialogue, ideas and growth.
· If a program is going to change, consider the programs a contract with the residents and give at least 30 days proper notification before implementation.

POLICE
The police department could use some realigning. In 2006, the numbers were as follows:
692 number of policemen
300 number of patrolmen on the beat
120 number of Command officers
292 number of policemen assigned to other duties besides patrolling the streets
33 number of patrolmen on any given day out of service for various reasons
67 number of patrolmen available per day at each stationhouse for 3 shifts
· Create a relationship with Owens Community College to offer a degree which would prepare students to be employed by TPD after graduation so the “police class” could be cut from one year to 3 months.
· Determine an appropriate ratio for Command Officers to Beat Officers, a 3 to 1 ratio is too high. We need the men on the streets.
· What are the 292 policemen duties?
· In the morning and evening, position a police car at a school for 15 minutes during the busiest time and have the lights flashing. Rotate the school location each day so at the end of the week, there was a police presence at every school in the city. The police would still be available to respond to a call, but since they have to be somewhere in the city, why not at a school on school days.

INFRASTRUCTURE
Multiple calls of complaint are costly to the City, as they all deserve a response. Create a web-based list of all repair requests for streets, potholes, and complaints which can easily be accessed by residents. It could be a free Google spreadsheet with a link on the City Web Page. The list should be prioritized by severity, listing: location, type of call, date of call, date of expected repair, estimated cost of repair and completion date. To the public, there is no rhyme or reason to how the requests are considered, prioritized, or assigned, this would answer those questions.

VACANT PROPERTY
The city has ownership of hundreds of residential properties with 30’ frontage primarily in the central city. They all must be maintained by the city: grass mowing, snow removal, police patrolling, etc., which is a cost with no revenue to the city. It drains our resources and our budget. Make it inexpensive, simple and easy to get these properties off the city books and generate some revenue through property taxes.

· Have a fire sale; offer each property to any buyer for $1.00.
· Bundle the closing costs, title transfers, etc. into one simplified package and low cost fee; i.e., $25.00.
· If the property has a condemned house, bundle the permits required to demolish and into one package, again, at a low cost fee.
· Offer a $500 incentive to the owner upon completion of the demolition of the building.

REFUSE COLLECTION:
Not only the residents of Toledo, but Toledo as a whole benefits from the unlimited trash collection program, it is instrumental in keeping the city clean. Continue the program, we already pay for it.

Be consistent in the messages to residents. First we are told the Administration wants to eliminate recycling because it costs too much money and isn’t worth the cost. Then we are told we must recycle and to get residents involved, they will pay $3.00 per month. Educate the residents on the recycle program and be consistent.

Return trash pickup to the alleys. If an area is littered and needs cleaning, have the refuse truck driver note on a route list, turn it over to the appropriate compliance department issue a 30 day warning to the property owner. The notification should contain an estimate of cost for the city to clean the area. If not cleaned in 30 days, send a crew or hire an independent contractor to clean the area and send a bill to the owner.

When the ¾% temporary tax was passed, it was to include an incinerator. With the issue of landfills, recycling and energy, it is time to revisit the possibility of an incinerator. Technology advances can offer better processes and the heat emitted can be used to generate electricity. A committee should immediately begin researching the latest technology of refuse incineration.

For the health of Toledo, we need to move away from "politics as usual", our elected officials should be expected to make the difficult choices for the health of Toledo, not to ensure their next election.

3 comments:

Neighborhood Concerns said...

Intrigued by the thoughts that unions influence the workings of the city and its administration and council members.

Perhaps we can discuss with some factual points which can be posted to show us where the influence is.

The union membership is declining while businesses leave and the remaining base of members is affecting the city how?

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