Ward: Distress signalsWritten by Lisa Renee Ward | | firstname.lastname@example.org
About a year ago I compared the budget process of the City of Toledo with the reality television show “Survivor.”
“While the budget process impacts people’s lives, like reality TV there is a part of it that is fake, despite the focus and attention, it is a giant paper game. We really don’t know how much revenue will come in, we don’t even really know how much money the city has. It’s all based on estimates,” I wrote.
The budget has to be balanced on paper by March 31, but if it goes out of balance on April 1, it doesn’t have to be addressed until the next budget is approved.
The 2011 budget process for the City of Toledo is similar to what took place last year. One major difference is the dollar amount of the deficit is lower for 2011. At one point in March 2010, the deficit was $48 million on March 21, 2011, the deficit was said to have been $9.1 million with adjustments taking it down to $4.1 million.
In 2010, an increase in the trash fee was passed to create more revenue. Another change to the trash fee was introduced by Mayor Mike Bell at the March 22 Toledo City Council meeting — the discount for recycling would disappear with residents paying $12.50 a month instead of $15 for those who don’t recycle and $8.50 a month for those who do recycle.
Those who qualified for the homestead exemption would pay $7.50 a month instead of $5 a month.
This legislation was introduced so that if Council did not approve the switch to a privatized trash collection service managed by Lucas County Solid Waste Management District, there would not be an additional $2.8 million budget deficit.
After the passage of Issue 5, Toledo had the ability to shift more money from the Capital Improvement Program (CIP) to the general fund. Money will be transferred again in 2011, with the possibility of an additional $2.4 million being transferred from CIP that still leaves a $4.1 million deficit to be solved before March 31. Continuing to raid CIP means less money for infrastructure like street repairs.
“We can’t keep balancing our budget on the backs of our infrastructure,” Councilman Joe McNamara said March 22.
One union in 2010 made a concessionary deal where it deferred payments — at the March 21 H.R., I.T. and Finance committee meeting, Councilman D. Michael Collins asked is it safe to say Toledo Firefighters Local 92 did not give a penny in concessions other than deferring overtime until 2011. “That is a fair statement,” Deputy Mayor Steve Herwat said.
Concessions are expected to be sought, though it’s not clear if it will be deals to defer or permanent cuts. Rumors of exigent circumstances have been whispered by more than one government source.
Revenue predictions have been increased to create additional on-paper-only money to move around.
Deferring overtime or other payments impacts those who worked more than what they were paid for and creates an automatic expenditure that has to be addressed at a later date.
Hitting citizens already reeling with economic survival with increased fees or reduced services has an impact on their budgets and our local economy.
Toledo is not the poster child of the budgetary paper game — the same thing takes place in other cities and school districts where a balanced budget is demanded and it happens at the state level as well.
The comparison of “rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic” has been used more than once to describe the budget process at a local and state level.
While the motivation behind the paper budget game is to reduce cuts or increases in fees or taxes, how long we can continue to rearrange deck chairs on a ship taking on water, is a question that could be asked of Toledo and Ohio.
The poor in steerage are already starting to go under and the second-class passengers are getting wet; first-class has to realize what’s headed its way. Some may escape into lifeboats, but since those are in limited supply, whether we can hold on until the USS Economy tows us into dry dock remains to be seen.
Toledo Free Press Web Editor Lisa Renee Ward operates the political blog GlassCityJungle.com.