THE city of Toledo is in fiscal trouble, no doubt about it, but that's not a compelling enough reason to divert money from street paving and other capital improvements projects, especially if the diversion is intended to help meet payroll.
Accordingly, we urge a vote of NO on Issue 5 on the Nov. 2 city election ballot.
Approval of Issue 5 would allow Mayor Jack Ford and City Council to use more of the 0.75 percent city income tax surcharge to pay salaries and other general fund expenses. However, we have a problem with any plan that would postpone or cancel infrastructure projects in order to line the pockets of unionized city employees.
Defeat of Issue 5 would not cancel the 3/4 percent surcharge, just preserve the status quo.
The surcharge, in effect since 1982 and renewable every four years in a public vote, does not expire until the end of 2005, but city officials are seeking early renewal and a change in the distribution of revenue.
If the issue is defeated, the surcharge would continue through 2005 with the proceeds spent at current proportions.
At present, one third of the surcharge revenue goes for police and fire services; one third to capital improvements, and one third to the city's general fund. Approval of Issue 5 would cut the capital improvements share by half, allowing the city to move up to $8.75 million into the general fund to help offset an expected $14 million budget deficit.
Mayor Ford and council members say they won't move the entire $8.75 million but expect to use only $4 million. But we know where it eventually would go: higher pay to sate the voracious appetite of the public employee unions.
That would be unfair to taxpayers, especially those suburbanites who pay Toledo's 2.25 percent income tax because they work in the city.
With Toledo at a near stagnant growth rate, a case can be made that the city no longer needs the same number of workers it once did. The police manning formula, for example, was set when the population was in the neighborhood of 365,000. Now it's about 313,000.
So if the city needs to make cuts, why not try layoffs? We're not eager for anyone on the payroll to lose a job, but other Ohio cities have bitten this bullet. Why not Toledo?
This city has been led down the garden path before by the unions, which demanded and got generous pay raises. That's why the treasury is bare now, and pothole-filled streets are the norm.
Like the 3/4 percent "temporary" tax itself, we worry that this redistribution could become permanent, or at least very difficult to undo.
A balanced budget is City Hall's responsibility. If layoffs are a better way to achieve it than letting the city's infrastructure deteriorate, layoffs must be considered.
Toledoans should stand up to this diversion and vote NO on ISSUE 5.