Saturday, November 23, 2002

Twister wrecks tight city budgets

By John Seewer
The Associated Press

VAN WERT, Ohio - Four tornadoes bringing winds topping 200 mph didn't just wipe out the town's movie theater and industrial park.

The twisters also may have wrecked the city's budget and could force cuts in police and fire training, building maintenance and other services.

"This is going to have some fairly long-term effects," said Mayor Stephen Gehres.

Towns in the path of the tornadoes that struck northwest Ohio on Nov. 10 already were facing tight budgets - mainly because of the slow economy - and now they must pay for the disaster cleanup.

The bills include overtime for police, firefighters and other employees who worked around-the-clock in the days after the storm. Some will lose tax revenues from businesses that were destroyed.

Most city leaders are looking to President Bush for help.

This week, Mr. Bush declared six counties disaster areas, making homeowners and business owners eligible for federal aid.

But a decision on possible help for cities had not been made, and most officials aren't expecting any federal money until next year.

"It's critical," said Port Clinton Mayor Tom Brown. "We really need that public assistance."

Through the middle of last week, his city had spent $32,500 on overtime for city workers and $22,000 on landfill charges to dump debris.

"Our budgets are very, very tight," Mr. Brown said. "It couldn't have come at worse time."

The city already was strapped for cash, laying off workers this year and not hiring any replacements over the last several years. "Every department has squeezed every dollar they can over the last couple of years," Mr. Brown said.

It's the same in Fostoria, where a tornado ripped off a school roof and damaged or destroyed 51 homes.

The city already had cut the jobs of three police officers, six dispatchers and told all departments including police to cut overtime.

Plus, a downtown fire in July took more money out of the budget.

"We were just barely going to make it at the end year," said John Davoli, mayor of Fostoria. "This is probably the worst time, but this still pales in comparison to these people who lost their lives, who lost their homes."

The tornadoes hit Van Wert just five days after voters turned down a 2.5 mill levy for general expenses.

"It was voted down on Tuesday, and on Sunday every police officer and firefighter we had was working full speed," the mayor said. "It's going to be awful hard to make it up."

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