Pounds: Bell’s budget bluesWritten by Tom Pounds | President / Publisher | firstname.lastname@example.org
One week to the day after Toledo voters rejected a levy for parks and recreation, this quote appeared in the announcement of Toledo Mayor Mike Bell’s 2013 City of Toledo operating budget: “The administration also maintained a commitment to quality of life issues affecting residents. Despite the rejection of a levy to support parks and recreation, the city will allocate approximately $175,000 more in the 2013 budget to support recreation activities for Toledo residents. The increase of 14% will support programs and staffing will remain steady.”
While we agree with Bell that it is “a little bit of a miracle that we’ve been able to not raise people’s taxes and provide more police and fire[fighters],” there is more disturbing news in the budget, especially the diversion of funds from the Capital Improvement Plan (CIP).
If the city drains the CIP in 2012 as previously announced and takes $14.7 million more from it next year, $76 million will have been taken from the CIP simply to cover shortfalls in the general fund. Bell did not announce any plans to repay the fund.
Bell defended his administration’s increase in the parks and recreation budget, saying, “We’re not going to be doing some sort of knee-jerk reaction because that levy didn’t pass. We can do more, so we’re adding a little bit extra.”
It’s hard to defend that “little bit extra” when the city will lose millions of dollars from state and local government funds. It is also troublesome that the city’s “Rainy Day Fund” reportedly contains less than a single day’s worth of general fund operating expenditures. The 2013 budget puts a token amount back into the fund, but not enough to cover any true emergencies.
Some much-needed improvements in the budget include:
- $32 million in city street and residential road construction and resurfacing (a $4 million increase from 2012).
- The building of a new Fire Station No. 12 and the renovation of Fire Station No. 3.
The budget also anticipated:
- A 3.4 percent increase in income tax revenue ($163.9 million) over anticipated 2012 revenue.
- A 4.5 to 5 percent increase in 2013 tax receipts over this year.
- A continuation in 2013 of the broad base increase in withholding collections seen this year.
- Increased tax revenue from Hollywood Casino and the expansion at Chrysler.
2013 will be a high-profile year for Bell, who is expected to face strong challenges in his bid to remain mayor. Balancing the budget is a difficult job as many funding sources dry up; how this specific budget guides Toledo through the next year will be a closely watched factor as the mayoral contest begins.
Thomas F. Pounds is president and publisher of Toledo Free Press and Toledo Free Press Star. Contact him at email@example.com.