City faces challenges in passing income tax renewalWritten by Scott McKimmy | | firstname.lastname@example.org
A local group vows to help defeat Issue 1, the .75 percent Toledo city income tax levy on March 4, citing Mayor Carty Finkbeiner’s “unrealistic budget” submitted in November and “frivolous” spending on projects such as the Erie Street Market, a $10,000 shower, flowers, bike paths and decorative street lighting.
Perlean Griffin, leader of the local chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and former executive director of Toledo’s affirmative action/contract compliance office, said the mayor’s lack of prudence in spending taxpayer money has compelled her and other proponents to “work very vigorously” to prevent the levy from passing. She called the budget passed by Toledo City Council “not something you can depend on” to meet revenue projections from resources such as red-light cameras and the city tow lot.
“I’ve had a chance to look at the budget, and a lot of the line items that he is proposing are based on projections. What if those projections don’t materialize? What’s he going to do then? So he’s asking city council to approve a budget that’s not a realistic budget,” Griffin said.
“If the levy is not approved this time around, there is still enough time for everybody to come to the table and support the levy in time for approval in November.”
The mayor’s office did not return calls for comment at press time. However, Toledo City Councilman George Sarantou denied that the city wastes funds, citing budget cuts eliminating 112 jobs in virtually all city departments since 2002. Sarantou has chaired council’s finance and budget committee for six years and said he has “firsthand knowledge of the massive deductions in many departments.”
He said Toledo is “very lean” on city employees, referring to a 1990s study by the Toledo Area Governmental Research Association comparing the number of city employees to their respective populations. The results showed Toledo maintaining the smallest staff of 9.7 employees per 1,000 residents in Ohio.
“I don’t think that says we’re wasting money. It says that we’re operating today with less employees. We’re getting more done with less resources and we have a very lean budget, and we’ve had a lean budget since 2002,” Sarantou said.
He also responded to Griffin’s contention of frivolous spending by saying beautification projects hardly affect the city’s $250 million budget, equaling less than .5 percent of the general fund. Because the expenditures are minor compared to the costs for police, fire and other city services, he said, they are appropriate.
City council voted unanimously to endorse the levy at its last meeting Feb. 12.
“If you add up the lights on the High Level Bridge, the lights on Jackson Boulevard, the mayor’s shower, bike and walking paths — plus if you add in the flowers — you’ve got about $700,000,” Sarantou said.
“So I do not accept the assertion that the city has wasted money on frivolous things.”
John Sherburne, the city’s finance director, said the tax has provided enough revenue to fund the police and fire divisions since first approved by voters in 1982. Deemed a temporary tax, the levy has been renewed every three to four years, but a population decline has made a dent in income tax revenues. On its Web site, www.ci.toledo.oh.us, the city proposes a 40 percent cut to police and fire personnel.
“The 2008 budget — the police and fire budget proposal — exceeds the entire income tax collection — meaning that there’s a requirement that a certain amount goes to the capital improvement budget,” Sherburne said. “If the police and fire budget would exceed the net income tax collection — which creates a problem because then the rest of the funding basically falls on other sources of income, such as the property tax.”
Projected revenue from the .75 percent levy increase would cover payments totaling about $16 million toward the retirement of bonds, principal and interest.
If it fails to pass, Sherburne said, the loss would “create a financial hardship” when the city sells bonds on the open market. It would also deal a blow to economic development.
“That would leave one-and-a-half percent of the income tax being the sole contributor to your capital improvement program, which would be devastating,” Sherburne said. “There’s not too much you can probably do well with a $2 million capital improvement program.”
The Rev. Floyd Rose, a former Toledoan now living in Valdosta, Ga., wrote a Feb. 12 open letter to the mayor in the Toledo Journal. He said he returned to Toledo at the request of several people to oppose the levy.
The threat of cutting police and fire is a “scare tactic,” he added, and “what I’m saying is that scare tactics won’t work this time.”
Rose advocates defeating the March 4 levy with the intention to “remake” the city, not break it.
“What we’re asking the City of Toledo to do is to stop the flow of the money, and this will force the city officials and members of the Democratic Party and all the political and economic leaders to sit down at the table,” he said.