City-County Line

. April 5, 2016.

Tina Wozniak, President of the Lucas County Commissioners, says that there may be unintended consequences to asking the EPA to declare the Maumee River watershed impaired. She is worried that the declaration won’t have any real effect, and that it could do more harm than good to the local economy.

     Meanwhile, Commissioner Carol Contrada agrees that the costs of a badly needed new local jail should be borne by the county. Prisoners are the responsibility of the Lucas County Sheriff, she reasons, and thus the county should take full responsibility.  And Commissioner Pete Gerken is concerned that the county’s budget has been badly damaged by questionable decisions by Governor Kasich and the state legislature. He has decided to ask the voters for a tax increase to right the fiscal ship.

A matter of trust

     Oh, wait, that isn’t right.  It wasn’t the county commissioners who said all those things.  It was leadership of the City of Toledo. Who worry that an impaired watershed declaration would not fix the problem of algae-feeding nutrients coming from the agricultural upstream part of the watershed.  And would instead limit the ability of business to locate in the downstream city, and force major investment into the sewage treatment plant, which would have minimal actual impact on algal bloom problems anyway.

     It is the city who argues that the state constitution dictates that all prisoners, regardless of the jurisdiction that arrests them and under what law, are the responsibility of county sheriffs.  And it is the city that notes the millions of dollars siphoned off by the state, which has devastated the city budget. City leadership has asked city voters for a tax increase, and have been repudiated at the ballot box.

    The county commissioners have taken a stance opposed to the city on the first two issues.  Yet it seems that the opinion of the county leaders are rarely questioned, while the stance of city leaders is automatically suspect. What gives?

     Why does the county automatically have more credibility than the city?

     Let’s break it down.  As the story goes, the county has worked successful economic development deals, most notably the two sports complexes downtown.  The county budget is always flush with cash.  The county regularly announces new, important programs, like the land bank, poised to revitalize neighborhoods.  How have they been so successful, while the city struggles?  Is it a leadership deficit?

Commissioners and other mythical creatures

     Much of the county reputation has been built on myth.  Economic development?  What about the old Fiberglas Tower, the empty eyesore in the heart of downtown?  Where has the county been on that boondoggle for over a decade?  And the old Hotel Seagate sits nearby, half of it torn down, the rest thrusting ragged and weary into the sky.  Seems there was a miscalculation on the amount of asbestos removal needed.

     Fifth Third Field and Huntington Center? Undoubtedly they have helped revitalize downtown. Well, half of downtown. Because both facilities, plus the convention center, were placed in ways that cut off through streets, chopping downtown into the revitalizing south side and the struggling area to the north.  

     Budget stability?  The county quietly passed a sales tax last year.  No, you didn’t vote on it.  The county only needs two votes to raise the tax.  Two of the three commissioners.  In this case, all three said, “Raise that tax!”  The city, of course, must take tax increases to the voters.  All the voters.  A much steeper hill to climb, and the city budget continues to suffer.

     And the land bank?  The county funded that by unilaterally raising fees on land transfers.  Two votes needed.  The raise in fees passed three to none.

     The county gets much of its budget from federal and state sources, as a pass through.  Most of the rest is from sales and other taxes you don’t get to vote for.  Easy to balance a budget when you get to write the blank checks.

     Why does the county get a pass on all these things?  Have they really been more credible?  Or is it all just better PR?  Ask yourself that next time you look up at the empty Fiberglas Tower.

     Ask again when you hear the ongoing disagreements between the city and county.