Council feuds with mayor on park plan; Finkbeiner refuses to fund Bowman Park

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page A13

It’s a dream that has spanned decades, and Councilwoman Tina Skeldon Wozniak thought it was close to being reached.

West Toledo’s Bowman Park, full of weeds and garbage, the source of dozens of complaints to her council office, was finally going to get fixed up. More than a dozen city employees had spent hundreds of hours creating a master plan that would make the park a recreation haven, with baseball fields, soccer fields, and a pond.

She had lined up support in key city departments, and met with the important private entities around the park, including Start High School and the YMCA. She thought she had the administration’s approval.

But Mayor Carty Finkbeiner said he was not willing to shell out public dollars to renovate the park without private support.

“Show me the private sector support, and the private sector money, and I’ll show the interest,” the mayor said. “Major park improvements require private sector support.”

Mrs. Wozniak said she was “sickened” by the mayor’s rejection. So she wants to get around it. She has lined up the support of her fellow council members to squeeze an extra $400,000 out of the capital budget.

“I’m confident we’ll get the support we need from council members,” Mrs. Wozniak said.

Councilman Bob McCloskey was more direct.

“We don’t need him to put the money into Bowman Park,” he said. “All we have to do is pull money out of every project he wants in the city of Toledo, and we’ll get it done. If that’s what it takes, that’s as far as we’ll go.”

Everyone seems to agree that the planned improvements to Bowman Park will be both wonderful and expensive. The cost of the project could reach $5 million. Soccer and baseball fields would be added, bikeways and pedestrian paths and vehicular roads would be built, and a drainage system would be added.

Bowman Park is now primarily used for baseball. It features 10 fields, but only one has lighting, rest rooms, or a grass infield. That field is used by the Start High School baseball team, which was ranked No. 1 in the country for much of last year.

But there are lots of problems. When it rains, the park does not drain well, earning it the nickname “Bowman Pond.” There have also been some concerns about crime in the park, Mrs. Wozniak said.

After years of dreaming about changes, Mrs. Wozniak, along with neighborhood activists, started working with the department of parks, recreation, and forestry to develop a plan for improvement.

SSOE Studios of Toledo helped bring the parties together to discuss what the proposed park improvements might look like.

Among the items the parks department’s proposal calls for is the purchase of an adjoining piece of land that would be converted into a new park entrance on Jack man Road.

When the parks department put together its wish list for the city’s capital budget, it included $600,000 for Bowman, including the land purchase. But the mayor decided not to include it in the budget he proposed to council.

He sent a terse, two-line memo to Mrs. Wozniak.

“Improvements will have to come from private sources in 1999,” the mayor wrote. “We have 143 parks and nowhere enough money to care for these 143.”

On Tuesday night, during his State of the City address, the mayor said one of his major goals of 1999 would be to improve the city’s parks. But he said the city already has made major commitments to other recreational facilities in West Toledo, including a planned baseball park for the Trilby Youth Sports Federation and a planned soccer complex at the former DeVilbiss High School.

Those are being done primarily with private investment, he said, and the city would not get involved in such a major park improvement without commitment from the private sector.

Mrs. Wozniak said that they are planning to seek funds from the private sector but that a corporation is much more likely to sponsor something like a new baseball field than the basic infrastructure work that needs to be done first.

“We need to get the public money to start the private money coming and to get the entire project rolling,” she said.

Mr. Finkbeiner said one of the reasons he doesn’t want to put public money into the park is that Mr. McCloskey had promised him a year ago the entire project would be funded privately. But Mr. McCloskey said the mayor isn’t telling the truth.

“I told him we were going to look for grants and private funding, but I never told him there would be no public money,” he said.

The councilman said that a baseball complex could make it possible for major tournaments to be regularly scheduled in Toledo, pumping thousands of dollars into the local economy.

“There are three major complexes run by the athletics department, and none of them are in West Toledo, the most densely populated part of the city,” Mr. McCloskey said.

Although Mrs. Wozniak said she will find the money to fund the park renovations, the mayor said that’s not possible.

“It’s not there to be found,” he said. “If they take the money from somebody else’s park, or somebody else’s renovation, then they will have to answer to those people. …At some point, you’ve got to prioritize what the community is most interested and excited about doing.”

Apartments planned for vacant Toledo Trust building; Owners show off lobby of renovated Fiberglas

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 9

The owners of the Toledo Trust building, the city’s oldest skyscraper and vacant since 1991, want to turn it into another downtown apartment complex, they said yesterday.

“We want to see a residential use for the building,” said Sam Eyde, chief executive officer of The Eyde Co., the Lansing-based firm that owns the building.

Mr. Eyde made the statement at a news conference yesterday at which he and Mayor Carty Finkbeiner showed off the completion of lobby renovations at the former Fiberglas Tower, also owned by the Eydes.

The Toledo Trust building, built in 1916, once was Ohio’s tallest. It was the tallest in Toledo for 17 years.

But, with the exception of a ground-level restaurant, it has been vacant since 1991. The Eyde Co. bought the building, along with the Fiberglas Tower, for $4.5 million a year ago.

Mr. Eyde said that he hopes to announce the building’s conversion within 90 days. He said the building would be renovated into about 100 units, which could be either rental units or condominiums.

An official announcement won’t be made for a few months, while the company examines issues such as zoning rules and potential tax credits available to the project. “We don’t want to make an announcement now and have to change our mind in a few months,” said Larry Steed, the company’s director of marketing.

If it becomes apartments, the Toledo Trust building would join the LaSalle, the Commodore Perry, the Hillcrest, and Water Street Station as downtown-area buildings converted or being converted into residential buildings.

Some, including members of the city council, have expressed concerns that the market for downtown living might be nearly saturated.

But Mr. Eyde said that isn’t true. “Our marketing studies say there is still a market. Everything that’s opened has filled up.”

Mr. Finkbeiner said he would welcome the Toledo Trust renovations.

“There is not a higher priority than filling up the vacant buildings in downtown Toledo,” he said. He said the city would be willing to work with the Eydes to get the building filled.

The Eydes and Mr. Finkbeiner expressed hope about the future of the former Fiberglas Tower, now known as the HyTower. The owners have determined that there are no major environmental or asbestos problems in the building, Toledo’s second tallest.

Along with the Toledo Trust building, the completely vacant HyTower is a big contributor to Toledo’s having the nation’s third highest downtown vacancy rate.

City and company officials said that rumors of environmental problems had plagued the building for years. “Nobody’s going to walk out of here glowing,” Mr. Eyde said.

It was the home of Owens Corning until the company moved into its Middlegrounds world headquarters in 1996.

The building will be getting yet another new name soon, as owners try to change the building’s image into a technological hub. The building is wired well for technology-oriented businesses, Mr. Eyde said, but it will soon be readied for the cutting edge in technology.

“We’ll have the highest speeds, the best fiberoptics, and most capability,” Mr. Eyde said.

He announced two new tenants in the retail space between the two buildings. Toledo Edison will be moving its walk-in service center from its Erie Street location, and UPN affiliate WNGT-TV, Channel 48, will open its offices in about a week.

“We felt it was perfect for a television broadcast facility,” said station owner Marty Miller. “We’ll be taking advantage of the fiber optics.”

In addition, Mr. Eyde and Mr. Finkbeiner unveiled new exterior lighting – to be illuminated within 90 days – that features blue neon strips up the building’s south side and around its top floor.

Mayor to lead Honduras storm-recovery trip

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 21

Mayor Carty Finkbeiner will be spending more than a week in Honduras in late March, building roads and shelters for the victims of Hurricane Mitch.

The mayor will be leading dozens of Toledo volunteers to three cities, where they will be helping to rebuild the infrastructure the storm destroyed.

“This is what life is all about, seeing a need and attempting to fill it,” the mayor said. “It will be rigorous, difficult work, but it will make a difference.”

Mr. Finkbeiner is trying to assemble up to 100 Toledo-area residents with skills useful for rebuilding. They will be transported to Honduras, likely by military plane, around March 14.

They’ll spend two weeks working long hours, living in tough conditions, and helping to restore facilities for the people of Honduras.

“This will not be some sort of a vacation,” said Barry Broome, the city’s development director, who is coordinating the effort. “This will be hard work in a hard place.”

The city is pushing hardest to find volunteers with health care skills, particularly nurses and physician’s assistants. Officials will be working with local hospitals and health care facilities to find them, but in addition, they are asking any interested people to send their resumes to the mayor’s office.

Engineers, construction workers, and child-care workers are asked to consider volunteering.

And while knowing Spanish is not an absolute requirement, it’s a big help, officials said.

Private corporations have donated about $45,000 to assist with the cost of transportation to Honduras for the volunteers, but about $15,000 to $20,000 more is needed.

Mr. Finkbeiner first asked for volunteers more than a month ago, but the federal agency coordinating the effort informed him yesterday about where and when the mission will take place.

Toledoans will be centered in three cities: Tegucigalpa, the nation’s capital; San Pedro Sula, in the mountainous northwest, and La Ceiba, on the Caribbean coastline.

Health care personnel likely will spend time in rural areas.

In those three cities, 300,000 people were left homeless by the storm and 600,000 were injured.

The mayor came up with the idea for the mission as a way to celebrate the city’s All-America status. Other All-America cities will be sending their own teams to Honduras.

Mr. Broome said that while other cities are sending the region food that will rot before it reaches people, Toledo will be sending a far more precious resource: skilled manpower.

“There’s so much being done that just isn’t helping,” he said.

McCloskey wants the Mud Hens; Councilman says East Toledo is the best place for a new ballpark

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 9

Councilman Bob McCloskey is starting a campaign – and his term doesn’t end for nearly three years.

The campaign is to persuade people that East Toledo is the best site for a new ballpark for the Toledo Mud Hens. And he’s recruiting helpers from Toledo’s eastern suburbs.

“What I’m asking is for you to give whatever help you can provide,” Mr. McCloskey told Oregon’s city council Monday night. “A lot of children on this side of the river don’t know what the Mud Hens are all about. I think that’s a shame. Moving the Mud Hens would be good for the east side of the river.”

The councilman’s district includes all of East Toledo, as well as a portion of South Toledo.

Mud Hens officials are proposing that a new ballpark should be built in East Toledo, along the riverfront on the site of the Toledo Edison Acme plant. Some of that site’s advantages, they say: free parking, a view of downtown, and proximity to the Toledo Sports Arena.

“The riverfront site just makes sense,” Mr. McCloskey said. “People aren’t going to go to a Mud Hens game and pay four, five bucks to park.”

But some, led by Mayor Carty Finkbeiner, say the site would cost too much to prepare, and prefer a site in downtown’s Warehouse District.

In his State of the City speech last night, the mayor emphasized the downtown ballpark as a key to the central business district’s revitalization.

Mr. McCloskey said he will talk to community groups and local schoolchildren to get them excited about an east side stadium.

He said he will seek support from business leaders as well. Don Monroe, executive director of River East Economic Revitalization Corp., has signed on to help, he said.

Mr. McCloskey said his campaign will take him to such Wood County municipalities as North wood, Walbridge, and Rossford, even though Lucas County owns the team and will decide where the stadium goes.

“I’m going to hit all the east side areas. We have to get more people involved, because not just Lucas County people go to games,” he said.

He told Oregon council that the view from Mr. Finkbeiner’s office in Government Center looks down on the warehouse district, which could explain the mayor’s interest in that site. Mr. McCloskey’s office faces East Toledo.

He also told the council he hopes East Toledo residents could work with Oregon on other issues.

“It’s too bad that Oregon and East Toledo aren’t one and the same,” he said. “But it didn’t work out that way. Yet, we can work together for something like moving the Mud Hens over here.

“That will benefit everybody,” Mr. McCloskey said.

Mayor’s address strong on pep, short on details

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 9

Toledo is in the best shape it’s been in for years, Mayor Carty Finkbeiner says, and it can get even better if citizens pull together and work at it.

“We have already set the tone for the next century,” the mayor said last night in his State of the City address at the Erie Street Market. “The same energy and teamwork that brought us All-America status will propel us into the next century.”

Among 1998 accomplishments cited by the mayor: thousands of jobs created, stronger neighborhoods, and environmental progress.

Not mentioned in the pep-rally atmosphere: the city’s ultra-tight budget, or the huge cost overruns in the Jeep project.

The speech, delivered to more than 700 people and broadcast live to television and radio audiences, was a feel-good hodge-podge, from the heroism of a firefighter shot in the line of duty to the city’s All-America status.

After being criticized in previous years for making speeches high on self-congratulation and low on substance, Mr. Finkbeiner made several small policy statements. Most were not detailed, but they included:

* Guaranteeing citizens they would receive a response to certain complaints within 72 hours.

* Establishing a set of standards for the maintenance of all city parks.

* Naming a five-member commission to improve the conditions of Toledo cemeteries, and an ad hoc committee aimed at improving minority health care.

Unlike last year’s speech, which was interrupted by applause only twice, the mayor received more than 20 ovations.

He spent several minutes outlining his plans for the downtown, which he called “everyone’s neighborhood.” He touted the upcoming opening of the Valentine Theatre, the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library expansion, and the Commodore Perry Apartments.

The biggest challenge for 1999 downtown: a health club.

“A new health club to serve the working population and ever growing numbers of residents must come this year!” he said. “I challenge and encourage downtown business leaders to support our health club.”

The city is negotiating with several health club operators and health care systems to open a fitness facility downtown. City officials have said it must include a swimming pool and other amenities to serve the office workforce.

Some of the biggest applause of the night came when the mayor repeated his plan to build a Toledo Mud Hens stadium in downtown’s warehouse district. Voters rejected a sales tax increase in May that would have funded such a stadium. The team is trying to arrange private funding but wants to put the ballpark on the East Toledo riverfront.

“The stadium belongs in the heart of the city,” Mr. Finkbeiner said. “The stadium’s location is a core component of an overall downtown development plan.”

The mayor used a series of props to aid his cause throughout the speech. First was a copy of a special section of Forbes Magazine promoting Toledo and northwest Ohio to corporate leaders. Mr. Finkbeiner said the section was a sign of “a track record recognized across the nation.”

But what the mayor described as a “24-page color article” was not a journalistic effort from the Forbes staff. It was an advertisement paid for by area economic development agencies at a cost of more than $275,000.

Perhaps the mayor’s most noteworthy proposal was the customer service pilot program. Within 72 hours of receiving a citizen complaint in certain departments, a city official will respond, at least to acknowledge the problem.

And if a city service is not performed within a certain time period, the service would be given for free, or the citizen could receive free tickets to attractions like COSI or the Mud Hens.

“I want to put the pressure on our men and women in a fair, professional way, to understand how important it is to be timely in responding to citizens,” he said.

There were few specifics. The mayor has not picked which city functions to target in the pilot program, or how quickly those services would have to provided.

But the idea fit in well with his theme for the evening: “Raising the bar on public service. We’ve got to take things we do, and do them a little bit better every year.”

For the most part, response from city leaders was positive.

“It was a good speech,” said council President Peter Ujvagi. “I think he has a justifiable pride in the accomplishments of the past, and a real love for this city.

“But his 1999 plans were outlined in broad strokes.”

Finkbeiner to pay for market use

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 13

When Mayor Carty Finkbeiner decided to throw a private party at the Erie Street Market for the State of the Union address earlier this week, he got to rent the place for free because he’s the mayor.

But, after criticism from area Republicans, the mayor has decided to pay for the party after all.

“If he wants to throw a private party at the market, that’s fine, but he should have to pay for it,” said Republican Councilman Rob Ludeman.

Mr. Finkbeiner chose the Erie Street Market because he wanted to have a place for friends and colleagues to gather to watch President Clinton’s State of the Union speech on Tuesday.

Carolyn Smithers, the Erie Street Market’s manager and a former interim press secretary for the mayor, said she received a call from a city employee in the mayor’s office asking to reserve the market for what she thought was a city function.

Ms. Smithers said the market’s policy is not to charge the city for official uses.

But this was not an official party.

The mayor’s invitation list – written on the mayor’s city stationery – reads more like a Democratic get-together than a public function. Guests were invited by the mayor’s office to the event. For example, the mayor invited city council’s 10 Democrats; he didn’t invite the two Republicans.

Four state legislators, all Demo crats, made the list, including one from as far away as Oak Harbor. But Toledo Republican State Rep. Sally Perz didn’t make the cut.

In the end, only three councilmen ended up attending the event.

Ms. Smithers said the cost for renting the market that night would have been $200. “It was my impression that it was a public or city event,” she said.

But mayoral spokesperson Mary Chris Skeldon said that Mr. Finkbeiner will pay the $200.

The ties between the city and the market are somewhat nebulous. The market’s building is owned by the city, and the market is supposed to be managed by an outside nonprofit corporation.

But while the city tries to organize a nonprofit to take it over, the mayor has named Ms. Smithers, a city employee, to run the market.

“Some people call it `Carty’s Clubhouse,”‘ Mr. Ludeman said of the market. “He’s promoted it, but he’s also used it to his benefit.”

Finkbeiner urges city to seize Jeep land

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 1

Mayor Carty Finkbeiner has a message for the three North Toledo residents who have so far refused to sell their houses to make way for the Jeep plant: See you in court.

“We will not be extorted to appease the very few remaining holdouts,” he said.

Throwing aside the city council’s call for a mediated settlement, the mayor said using eminent domain is now the best way to obtain the land.

He asked council to start the process by passing legislation at its Feb. 2 meeting.

Mr. Finkbeiner presented the eminent domain legislation to council in September. Council members have been pushing back a vote on the matter ever since, in an attempt to find some way to reach a mediated settlement with the landowners.

But the mayor said yesterday that bringing in a mediator would be an unfair change in the process used for other landowners.

“There is a legal system for this, and we should follow it,” he said.

On Tuesday, council President Peter Ujvagi said he wanted to see the city and the landowners bring in a mediator – possibly even one or more council members.

But he said that if mediation can’t be achieved by Feb. 2, he would support eminent domain as well.

As part of the incentive package the city offered DaimlerChrysler AG to invest $1.2 billion into a new Jeep facility, the city agreed to buy up a group of residential and industrial properties that the company wanted to tear down. They are in a small neighborhood north of I-75 and east of Stickney Avenue.

All the industrial properties have been purchased, along with 79 of the 85 residential properties.

City officials say they may be close to reaching an agreement on three of the six holdouts, but three are not willing because of the wide differences between what the city is offering and what the homeowners want.

The three property owners have rejected a mediated settlement, because of what they consider the city’s unwillingness to pay a fair price for their homes.

“This is not a voluntary move,” said Terry Lodge, attorney for the three homeowners. “People are being asked to completely redirect their lives. It’s kind of ludicrous for Carty to suggest that mediation and conciliation are not options.”

The city and the landowners differ by up to $35,000 on how much the houses are worth.

If the city files eminent domain lawsuits, it likely will be about four months or longer before a jury will rule on how much the landowners are due, attorneys for both sides said.

In addition, Mr. Lodge said he would be making arguments that an automotive plant is not an ap propriate use of eminent domain power, meaning that a jury could decide that the homes could not be taken by the city at all.

And any ruling in a local court could be appealed several times, meaning that the process could drag on for years if the landowners want it to.

At Tuesday’s council meeting, several council members, led by councilman Gene Zmuda, said they believe that the city has been unfair by offering too little for homes and improperly hearing ap peals from the residents.

But yesterday, Mr. Finkbeiner said that bringing in a mediator could make DaimlerChrysler think that “the city was not businesslike in its proceedings.”

He lashed out at what he called political posturing by Mr. Zmuda, who is one of two Republicans on council and is considered a possible candidate for mayor in 2001.

“Gene Zmuda has been a demagogue, an obstructionist of the highest order,” Mr. Finkbeiner said. “He has misled everyone as he plays his political game. The clock on that game is up.”

Mr. Zmuda said he is simply trying to stand up for the interests of the homeowners, and that he has the support of the rest of council, which has agreed at past meetings to pursue mediation.

“It is a typical response from the mayor,” he said.

“He is unwilling to have a meaningful discussion on the facts, so he ends up resorting to name-calling.”

City land sale OK’d, but snag emerges

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 13

The Toledo city council approved the sale of 213 acres of city-owned land in Monclova Township last night, but the deal could hit a snag.

Eclat Development, Ltd., a local partnership formed about a year ago, has agreed to buy the land for $6.2 million.

The council voted unanimously to OK the sale but held out on spending $300,000 on waterline improvements on the land.

Council members said they doubted the wisdom of spending money to improve the infrastructure of land outside the city limits.

“We’ve got uses for that money in the city of Toledo, and I’m not sure if spending it on land in Monclova is the best idea,” Councilman Peter Gerken said.

But at least one city official believes that $300,000 could be a dealbreaker.

“This is a terrific deal for the city,” said Barry Broome, the director of development. “I don’t want to give these businessmen the impression that we’re backing away.”

Mr. Broome was the target of withering criticism from the council for almost an hour. When Mr. Gerken first raised his objections about the $300,000, Mr. Broome said that payment was part of the city’s deal with Eclat, and that approving the sale was equivalent to approving the $300,000.

After a lengthy dispute over what the city’s legal obligations were, the council agreed to approve the sale, but refer the infrastructure payment to its finance committee. There, it will be considered along with the city’s budget during the next two months.

Mr. Broome has clashed with the council over development projects before. While discussion on the $300,000 was still going on last night, he put on his coat and left the council chambers, leading Councilman Bob McCloskey to call his actions “rude.”

In other action during their 4 1/2-hour meeting, council:

* Rejected Mayor Carty Finkbeiner’s request to hire a private search firm to find a director for the Toledo-Lucas County plan commissions.

The search would have cost $15,000. Among the concerns raised by council members: Lucas County officials are not willing to pay for a portion of the search’s cost. The plan commission director is paid by the city and the county.

Six council members voted for the search, and five voted against. Seven votes were necessary for passage; Councilwoman Betty Shultz was not at the meeting at the time of the vote.

Mayor Finkbeiner rejected the previous candidate presented by the plan commission, Fred Guerra of Barberton, O.

County officials said they would have approved Mr. Guerra, which is the reason they gave city officials for not paying for part of the search.

* Approved the development agreement that will allow HCR ManorCare, Inc., to move its headquarters into the Summit Center downtown.

The move includes a $1.5 million grant from the city, as well as grants and loans from the state.

* Put off the start of eminent domain proceedings against three homeowners whose residences are in the way of the Jeep plant project.

Council members said they want to have two more weeks to find a way to obtain the properties through mediation instead of a lawsuit.

* Authorized the city to buy $375,000 worth of road salt.

In this winter’s storms, city trucks have spread more than 20,000 tons of salt to melt snow and ice, and officials said the extra expenditure is necessary to ensure the city will have enough salt to handle further storms.

* Consolidated the operations of the city’s two engineering staffs, from the departments of transportation and utilities.

Council expected to endorse HCR pact

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 13

HCR ManorCare, Inc., finally might get the go-ahead tonight to move into the Summit Center.

The council is expected to approve the development agreement that will move the newly merged nursing home giant into the 16-story downtown building.

The city will contribute a $1.5 million grant to the project, joining $500,000 from the state and a $7 million state loan.

Toledo’s Health Care and Retirement Corp. and Maryland’s Manor Care, Inc., merged last year, creating Toledo’s fourth largest company. The combined firm will move into the Summit Center, retaining 318 jobs and creating 200.

HCR officials plan to close the deal this week, so Barry Broome, the city’s development director, asked council to expedite approval.

Under the agreement, the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority will become the owner of the building for the next 10 years, after which HCR will have an option to purchase it.

The council is expected to approve a personal property tax exemption worth $232,000 to the company over 10 years. HCR will only be required to pay about $190,000 to the Toledo Public Schools over that period, a 55 per cent reduction in its tax bill.

On the council’s agenda is a $300,000 payment to HCR to help pay for additional parking in downtown Toledo, but the council is expected to refer the matter to its finance committee.

Also on the council’s agenda for today’s 4 p.m. meeting is legislation authorizing the use of eminent domain proceedings against three homeowners in North Toledo. The three are the final holdouts in the city’s Jeep plant land purchases. Council members said they hold out hope that agreements with the landowners can be reached before the use of eminent domain becomes necessary.

Snowplow shortage linked to budgeting; Capable trucks not all replaced

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page A1

If your street didn’t get plowed during this month’s snow storms, Toledo’s budget-cutting bureaucrats may be partly to blame.

Toledo has far fewer plows for use on residential streets than it did 10 or 20 years ago. The reason: Over the years, the city chose to save money by replacing vehicles that could plow with vehicles that couldn’t.

It saved the city a few thousand dollars on each vehicle. But it meant that streets went unplowed.

“We really could have used those plows out there,” said Bill Franklin, commissioner of the city’s streets, bridges, and harbor division. “They would have helped quite a bit on the residential streets.”

The plows in question belong to the so-called “sister divisions,” the city departments that handle the plowing of residential streets. Their role dates back to the pivotal event in recent Toledo snow history: the Blizzard of 1978.

After that disastrous blast – which created seven-foot snow drifts and wind chills of 50 below zero – city officials decided that their previous strategy of relying almost completely on crews from the streets division wouldn’t work in major snowfalls. It could take days before those crews would be able to even start clearing residential streets.

In December of 1978, the city announced a new plan. Streets, bridges, and harbor crews would still plow the snow off the city’s major streets. Residential streets would be handled by the sister divisions. They were the other departments, like sewer maintenance, water, and parks, that had heavy trucks.

To prepare those divisions, 60 heavy sister division vehicles were outfitted with plows and readied for action in residential streets.

Fast forward to 1999. In the worst parts of this month’s storms, only 15 to 18 sister division plows were on the residential streets. At no time were there more than 29; at times, there were only 12.

“We’ve got garages full of trucks that could be used as plows, if only they had the right equipment,” said Charlie Noble, president of Local 7 of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees.

Mr. Noble, whose union represents the city’s snowplow operators, said he thinks Mayor Carty Finkbeiner has given workers short shrift when he criticized the city’s plowing efforts. “Our workers couldn’t do the job they wanted to without the equipment they needed,” he said.

One 1991 internal document shows that the city then had 44 plows at the ready.

Last year, a city survey said that about 40 plows were available from sister divisions. But only 29 were available for use in this month’s storms. “We’re trying to figure out how that happened,” Mr. Franklin said.

One thing that happened is that the city’s fleet of sister division trucks was aging. And when city departments were starting to replace them, they faced a decision when budgets were tight: Do they spend a few extra thousand dollars and have the vehicles equipped with plows?

For many, the answer was no.

“It just wasn’t on the front of our agenda,” Mr. Noble said. “Now we’re playing catch-up.”

Mr. Noble worked in the city’s sewer department in 1991, when it could provide 14 trucks with plows for residential street snow removal. Last week, it could provide only three.

Bob Williams, commissioner of the city’s sewer division, said his department was able to help the snow removal effort in other ways, but had only three vehicles equipped with plow brackets.

“I know in prior years they probably had more of them,” Mr. Williams said. “As the trucks got old and they brought in the new, I’m not sure the new ones that were brought in had plow capability.”

He said there are about a dozen trucks just in his department that could be used to plow if they were outfitted with brackets and snow blades.

Ray Norris, who headed the city’s transportation department for four years in the mid-1990s, said the department provided at least six trucks for plowing when he headed it. For this year’s storm, it could provide only three.

For Mr. Franklin, it’s not difficult to understand how the budget process could lead department heads to not buy a snowplow it would never use for its own purposes.

“They look for places to cut back,” he said. “You’re going to try to get the things that help you reach the goals of your division, and pay less attention to something that helps another division.

“Over the years, the number of plows dwindles down.”

According to Mike Justen, the city’s public service director: “It probably wasn’t a priority back then. This drop in equipment didn’t happen in one or two years. We may have been a little lax on keeping up.”

The numbers have been low for several years, he said, but there hasn’t been any nasty weather “to expose that weakness in recent years.”

In milder storms, crews from streets, bridges, and harbor can help out on residential streets after they are done with the major streets.

But when a series of snow storms over the last two weeks dumped more snow than in all of last winter, that weakness became evident.

“In this case, we couldn’t help on residential [streets],” Mr. Justen admitted. “We were outmanned equipment-wise on the residential streets.”

Last fall, Mr. Franklin and Mr. Justen met to determine if the city would be prepared for a heavy snow storm. Their verdict: The city needed to buy more plows for sister division vehicles.

“It makes sense,” Mr. Franklin said. “That was one of the things we identified early on.”

When the city’s vehicle replacement budget is taken to the council later this year, they will ask that at least 20 new plows be installed on sister division vehicles. And if more than 20 city-owned trucks can handle a plow, they’ll ask for more than 20 plows.

“We’re going to ask for a plow on every truck that can handle it,” Mr. Franklin said.

Even if only 20 plows were added, the city’s ability to clean up after snowstorms would be significantly increased.

The math is revealing. An average plow can complete at least two five-mile routes in a 12-hour shift. If the sister divisions had 20 extra plows, that would mean city crews could cover an additional 400 street miles in a 24-hour period.

Considering there are only 640 residential street miles in the city, those extra 400 miles are no small number.

“It would have helped,” Mr. Franklin said. “We would have been able to respond quicker to the residential streets system. Now, we have an increased awareness of how important the sister division plows are to us.”

The extra plows would be used differently in different storms, he said. In a major storm like the ones earlier this month, they could be used in addition to all the other city and private crews, so residential streets could be plowed much more quickly.

In a smaller storm, they could be used instead of private contractors. The city paid $700 for each five-mile route cleared by a contractor this month, and used contractors on over 100 routes, Mr. Franklin said.

“We filled the gap of the lack of sister divisions with private contractors,” he said.

Mr. Franklin said that adding a plow to a vehicle costs between $5,000 and $10,000, putting the cost of 20 plows at $100,000 to $200,000. It costs less to purchase a new vehicle with plowing capability than to retrofit an old one, he said.

This won’t be the first time the streets, bridges, and harbor division has asked for more plows, Mr. Franklin said.

“We have submitted [budget requests for] plows in the past,” he said. “Somewhere, they got ferreted out. Now, I bet they don’t this year.”

But Mr. Finkbeiner isn’t so sure. He said he doesn’t like the idea of paying for equipment that might get used only every few years.

“I’m disappointed that Bill [Franklin] would react that quickly,” he said. “There were an adequate number of vehicles available this year. I don’t think you buy equipment based on storms that will happen only once every five years.”

He said he believed global warming would reduce the frequency of nasty weather and, thus, the need for more plows.

“I think time will show that this sort of storm was the exception, not the rule,” he said.

But Mr. Franklin said the extra plows will be needed to improve service in residential areas.

“We’re not happy with the way things turned out on the residential streets,” he said. “We only got somewhere around half of what we used to get from the sister divisions in this storm. It would be very advantageous for us to have the sister divisions have more equipment, and that’s what we’re going to do.”