On March 4, the voters of Toledo will decide whether to renew the .75 percent tax or defeat it. The .75 percent tax raises approximately $57 million toward our overall General Fund budget, or 23 percent of $251 million. Of the $57 million raised, one-third goes to police and fire, one-third to the general fund, and the final one-third goes to capital improvements (projects that will last for more than five years).
In 1997, the fire department budget was nearly $40 million and today it is $57 million. Also in 1997, the police department had a budget of $59 million — today it is almost $83 million. The refuse department budget in 1997 was $11 million and today it is about $15 million.
In 1997 the .75 percent tax brought in $47 million and today it provides $57 million — a gain of $10 million since 1997. However, the police, fire and refuse departments’ budgets in the same time frame have increased by $45 million.
In addition to the police and fire departments, the Toledo City Charter mandates the following departments: Toledo Municipal Court judges, Toledo Municipal Court clerk, public safety administration, finance, treasury, accounting, purchasing and supplies, law, city council, city auditor, mayor, and capital improvement program. These departments that are required by the charter represent $213.5 million or 85 percent of our general fund budget of $251 million.
The refuse department is budgeted at $15 million, and the remaining $23 million is budgeted as follows: utilities, $3.5 million; debt management, $3.4 million; tax department, $2.1 million; economic development, $924,000; human resources, $1.4 million; plan commission, $560,000; neighborhoods, $219,000; demolition, $1.5 million; building inspection, $2.45 million; facility operations, $500,000; parks, recreation and forestry, $4.78 million; and other departments, $1.4 million.
The current number of general fund employees is 1,826 – this does not include water department employees because they are paid through your water fees. Out of 1,826 employees, 803 are in the police department and 505 are in the fire department.
The municipal court judges, staff, and court clerk account for another 154 employees. Thus, public safety (police, fire and courts) constitutes 80 percent of the general fund budget. If you add refuse and solid waste employees, that is an additional 154 employees, and now we have accounted for 88 percent of the general fund workforce. That leaves 12 percent, or 210 employees to operate the remaining nonpublic safety and refuse departments: human resources, taxation, treasury, finance, plan commission, economic development, neighborhoods, building inspection, parks and recreation.
In 2002, the City of Toledo had 2,154 general fund employees. Since 2002, Mayor Ford and Mayor Finkbeiner, along with city council have reduced the number of employees by 329. Currently, we have 1,826 employees and despite this reduction, primarily in the nonpublic safety and refuse departments, we have not decreased services to the citizens.
In 2000, a Toledo Area Governmental Research Association study compared Toledo with other major Ohio cities. One of the categories was the number of city employees per 1,000 people. That study has been updated to 2007 and the results are impressive. Toledo has 9.7 employees per 1,000 people, compared with Akron 11.6, Columbus 13.4, Dayton 15.2, Cleveland 19.5, and finally Cincinnati at 21 employees per 1,000 people.
The City of Toledo accomplishes an awful lot and still maintains the lowest number of employees per 1,000 people. As an example, in 1994 the city finance department had 73 employees, today it has 43.
As you can see, we have reduced employees by 329, and made cuts in nonpublic safety areas over the last six years. The .75 percent is a renewal tax on income and business profits, not on pensions, Social Security, dividends and capital gains, or on unemployment compensation. Some 35 percent of Toledoans do not pay income tax due to age or retirement. Toledo has not raised the income tax since 1982 — unlike many voted levies such as; schools, the zoo, metro parks and libraries, which have asked for increases, and the voters have granted them. Please note, every homeowner in the City of Toledo pays property tax to Lucas County of which the city receives 8 percent, which equates to $134 a year on an average $100,000 home.
Finally, this .75 percent tax is not about who is mayor, or who is on city council (mayors and council members come and go). It is about continuing vital Toledo services — police, fire, courts, criminal justice, and refuse collection to name a few. With $57 million of tax revenue at stake, we would have to make serious and deep reductions in police, fire, criminal justice areas, refuse and solid waste because they represent 84 percent of our general fund budget. I respectfully ask all citizens to carefully consider all of the facts that I have presented, and please support the renewal of the .75 percent tax.
George Sarantou is an at-large member of Toledo City Council.