FAILURE of Toledo officials to file the necessary documents to put renewal of the 0.75 percent payroll tax on the Sept. 11 primary ballot isn't the calamity it might have been. The city can recoup to avoid an interruption or loss of revenue, but the episode remains an embarrassment and further clogs a November ballot that will already be crowded with important contests and money issues.
Mike Beazley, clerk of council, accepts responsibility for the mistake, which unfortunately will push the tax issue onto the Nov. 6 general election ballot. Voters that day will be asked to decide several levies, races for mayor, council, and school board, and, the danger with such a crowded ballot is that an important issue can be overlooked.
For Mr. Beazley, a normally sure-footed veteran city official, lawyer, and former election official, the humiliation of having to admit that the tax renewal paperwork was misplaced and wasn't sent to the Lucas County Board of Elections by the June 28 deadline is probably punishment enough.
Any hint of trouble for the 0.75 percent tax is problematic, though, since it raises about $52.4 million annually, more than one-quarter of the general fund budget, and the city would be crippled fiscally without it.
The money it generates is earmarked, and equally allocated, for three purposes: police and fire protection, capital improvements, and other city services. The tax does not expire until next July 1, giving City Council time to schedule a special election early in 2002 should the renewal question fail on Nov. 6. Of course, a special election would mean a substantial expense to the city that could have been avoided.
Toledo levies a total payroll tax of 2.25 percent, but only the 0.75 percent portion is subject to periodic approval, giving voters a welcome say in how public money is spent. As taxes go, it has been generally popular, having been first approved in 1981 and renewed every four years since. Only once, in 1985, has it come close to losing.
Calling the council clerk's slipup a minor problem, Councilman Gene Zmuda seemed to put the issue into a rational perspective. He says that Toledo voters will renew the tax if they feel the level of services they've grown to enjoy are worth maintaining.
Under Mayor Finkbeiner, Toledo has made important strides in keeping the city's infrastructure in good shape. The important thing about the 0.75 percent tax is that residents get to vote on it. Whether that happens in September or November shouldn't make any difference. But the screw-up should stand as a ringing wakeup call to make sure such a mistake doesn't happen again.