Former educator and current community booster Billie Jo Smith and her all-female city council was gavelled to order this week – taking note of the fact that all-lady city councils are a rarity in this country – Smith taking note of how exciting it is to have such talented women working with her to improve the quality of life for all Toledo residents. Although thanking former Mayor Ralph Grutzmacher and Councilor Jack Dunaway for performing well as civic leaders on behalf of the town, Smith waxed nearly poetically about her admiration for a former mayor…a former lady mayor, Sharon Branstitter. Reflecting on her own rise to the top elected office in the city, Smith said she was powerfully motivated, through the encouragement of friends and fellow citizens of Toledo to consider running for mayor, but at the same time her fond remembrance of Sharon Branstitter provided the final push for her to actually file for the office. Smith cited Branstitter’s tireless spirit in launching many improvements around Toledo, improvements that created a shared sense of pride among city residents that continues to this day. She said she’s gratified at the women who are now serving with her on the council – women armed with scientific knowledge, education, management skills, business savvy, technical competence and with a dedication to community service as well as being parents and grandparents. She lauded city staff from City Manager Jay Baughman on down for their service to the community, calling Baughman a positive and thoughtful leader who will help the council improve Toledo’s sustainability as a community and enhance its quality of life.
Smith said that everyone in Toledo is welcomed to attend city council meetings, give their opinions or just call her up and talk to her directly. For those who prefer face-to-face conversations she invites everyone to join her during her weekly “Coffee with the Mayor” sessions at various venues around the city. Check the city’s website for times and places.
And with that, Mayor Smith launched everyone into the year’s first meeting as the new city council.
They reviewed Police Chief David Enyert’s departmental commitment to bringing its values and policies in line with what law enforcement accreditation experts require. The idea, that as well run his department is, it needs to be brought into very detailed alignment with accepted policing standards around the country. Chief Enyert and his officers and support workers are doing it, he says. Chief Enyert said he expects his department to achieve “official accreditation” much the same way that the Newport Police Department recently achieved their’s.
The council then got a report that the city’s sewer plant is in great shape, but that the pipes between homes and businesses and the sewer plant are in bad shape – 50 to 75 years in the ground, some of them. And they need replacing – some sections sooner than others. Also storm water is seeping into the waste stream making the sewer plant treat much more effluent than it was designed to process.
A consultant recommended a strategy to keep using what is still working while fixing what needs fixing now. He said Toledo needs new pipes in the ground, more new pumps and lift stations, all scattered over a number of years while fixing emergency failures when they happen. Total financial outlay: $6.6 million. And because Toledo doesn’t have that kind of money it will have to go shopping for low interest loans or the occasional grant. The consultant said grants used to fund a big chunk of sewer and water upgrades, but those sources of funds have all but dried up. Grants are not making it down to the local level like they used to. So if it’s loans the city must use to finance improvements, sewer and water rates will continue to rise to pay off those loans. What kind of rate increases? Unknown at this point.