Ms. López blamed Mr. Bell for even proposing water rate increases now on his watch when failing to address the infrastructure needs of the city “from day one.” She also held Mr. McNamara accountable in his role as the chairman of city council’s public utilities committee, which she described as “the checks and balances” of the mayor’s proposals.
“Both of these individuals failed to address the water system issues that have cost the city now major dollars,” said Ms. López. “Recently, this leadership has ignored serious responsibilities of the region’s water supply and now Toledoans are paying the price every time they turn on the faucet.
The Latina mayoral candidate pointed out that “front-line city employees have made concessions” and citizens have faced “increased fees.”
“Yet they are able to find money and even contemplate giving it to themselves,” she said in reference to proposed raises up for a vote by Toledo City Council. “No raises should occur for the mayor or city council. No raises should occur for executive staff when citizens are asked to pay more and city employees have been asked to give from their own dollars.”
Ms. López, a Democrat who grew up in the Old South End, held a press conference Saturday outside One Government Center to make her point. All three candidates work in the state-owned government office building. McNamara, also a Democrat, announced his candidacy earlier this year. Mayor Bell, an independent, also is seeking re-election. So far, no party-backed Republican has stepped forward to run for mayor.
The county auditor accused her two political opponents of “playing shell games” with city finances, by allowing the transfer of public dollars from the city’s capital improvement fund and other “special funds” to cover the operating costs of the city.
López: “Failed leadership” on the part of Mayor Bell and Mr. McNamara
“I certainly hope the leadership makes the right decision and does not reward themselves for their failed leadership of the past four years,” said Ms. López, calling the thought of pay increases “an insult” to citizens and city employees.
Voters in the recent past have twice approved ballot measures that would allow city council and the mayor to transfer capital improvement dollars, for such things as road repaving, to balance the Toledo city budget during tough economic times. When he took office, Mayor Bell told reporters his administration had inherited a $48 million deficit from the previous mayor [Jack Ford denied these allegations]. Mayor Bell also convinced Toledo City Council to declare “exigent circumstances” to force contract concessions from municipal unions to also address the city’s budget woes.
The mayor also proposed water rate increases early in his term, but city council lowered those proposed rate hikes citing the tough economy. Since then, a comprehensive study of the aging Collins Park water treatment plant and the city’s water distribution system have revealed $55 million in immediately-needed repairs and upgrades to keep it from failing. Much of the equipment dates back before World War II, and half of the city’s pipes were installed in the 1930s. The city averages 300 water main breaks each year.
While the water rate increases will be spread out over the next five years, residents would pay approximately $125 more per year by 2018. Mayor Bell’s office points out that the average Toledo household currently pays an average of $14.53 per month for water, compared with ratepayers in Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati who pay $32.60, $33.35, and $25.63 per month, respectively. Toledo’s water system currently serves approximately 500,000 households across northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan.
The Latina Democrat demanded “a full audit” of the Dept. of Public Utilities before any water rate increase is even considered. She alleged the former city council president and mayor both “should have known” the extent of the problems in the department. She questioned “why they didn’t catch this” four years ago and “why they didn’t make the necessary cuts and changes.”
“We want to see where every dollar has been spent. We want to see where every employee within the management, what they are doing to help citizens directly,” she said. “We want to see exactly where every line item, travel expense, anyone who’s been hired into the Dept. of Public Utilities within the last 20 years and remained an employee: how do they help and directly benefit citizens and help provide basic services to the public.”
The mayor’s office reports the Dept. of Public Utilities already is undergoing a performance audit “to find greater efficiencies in their operations.” Some of the city’s current water woes came from what Bell and McNamara have called prior mayors passing the political buck—a charge Ms. López is now lobbing their way.
“First and foremost, as soon as you take a leadership position, you are responsible and you inherit everything by taking on the role—you must address everything immediately,” she said. “So to pass the buck and say it was the former administration, if you didn’t know what you were signed up for in the first place, maybe you shouldn’t have run for that position.”
Alan Cox, Opal Covey, and Michael Konwinski have also filed petitions for the September primary but Ms. López did not address the actions or lack of actions of these candidates.
Rebuttal by Mayor Bell and Mr. McNamaraMcNamara’s camp reacted to the allegations of Ms. López by sending an email to campaign contributors alleging she was “already launching false and negative attacks” against a fellow Democrat’s record, essentially “taking a page from Karl Rove’s playbook.”
In an op-ed column, Mayor Bell had already set the record straight on a number of claims made by Ms. López, stating his administration is “mindful that our city continues to recover from the recession.” The mayor called a clean and safe regional water supply as “a major selling point in marketing this city for economic development.”
“Touting a first-class system that remains affordable and is well-maintained bolsters that asset,” Mayor Bell wrote.