Sunday, February 03, 2008

Commentary on the 2008 Toledo City Budget

Once again voters will be asked to renew the ¾% “temporary tax”. This ¾% tax was originally passed on June 6, 1982. At that time, refuse collection had been cut in the summer to every other week, was limited to quantity allowed at the line and no white goods (appliances). Additionally, 1600 city jobs had been cut, the police force was at 615 and they had lost all of the 86 civilian staff. Vehicles were in disrepair, the parks were closed and the pools were not opening. The tax was expected to generate $22 million (link to Blade article Now, 26 years later, we are in the same predicament.

In 1982, Councilman, Donna Owens, believed the tax could be sold to the voters because it was temporary (a ½% permanent increase was soundly defeated the year before) she commented about the possibility of renewing the tax in the future stating: “and they have the chance to say so at the polls if they do not like the way the additional money is spent”.

The language of the levy guaranteed the revenue would “funnel the proceeds in 3 areas:

  • ¼% police and fire for hiring 115 police officers and 32 fire fighters and for upgrading equipment (especially fire equipment)
  • ¼% to the general fund for restoration of weekly garbage collection, reopening the parks and restoration of cutbacks in the health department.
  • ¼% for capital improvements fund for repayment and rescheduling the city’s debts, resurfacing streets, restoration of storm sewers and demolition of vacant and vandalized houses.

Over the past years, the wording has been diluted until it no longer specifically covers refuse collection which has gone unnoticed by the majority of voters. Ask your neighbors “what is to be paid for by the ¾% temporary tax?” Most will say, police, fire and refuse collection. Instead per the Municipal code, it covers:

· one-third (1/3) shall remain in the General Fund for police, fire and other Safety Department responsibilities,

· one-half (1/2) of said increase shall remain in the General Fund,

· one-sixth (1/6) of the said increase shall be allocated to the Capital Improvements Fund.

With this wording the city is no longer bound to provide the refuse service we expected when we voted for the levy in 2004.

How is the money being allocated? Our politicians have spent 26 years “negotiating” unsustainable contracts with the Unions representing the city employees. We will not survive as a community if our City leaders continue on this path of unrealistic wage and benefit packages. How did this come about as we entrusted our taxes to the politicians of Toledo?

The Blade article last week which covered the Mayor’s fundraiser paints a picture of what is to come when they reported that in attendance at the $500 per ticket fundraiser were “all the union chiefs”. Blade article

Backroom deals are cut with the union chiefs to garner endorsements, contributions and campaign workers for the candidate who will offer the best package if elected. The result over the past years has been an exploitation of the generosity of the electorate who continues to offer up additional taxes to pay for these agreements. Voters are not naïve and accept this is “politics as usual” accepting the status quo; however, it has gone too far and needs to be remedied.

The challenge for those currently in office is to understand we are at a critical turning point in Toledo politics. They must set aside self-interest and concern for reelection with the understanding that the funds to finance the current contracts do not exist and voters are financially unable to continue digging deeper to finance such folly.

Commentary # 2 to follow.

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