PUTTING off needed infrastructure repairs and other important projects because Toledo City Council and Mayor Carty Finkbeiner can't work together to balance the city's budget is wrong. But sometimes what's wrong is preferable to the alternative. That's why Toledoans are urged - reluctantly - to vote Yes on Issue 1 when they go to the polls on Tuesday.
Issue 1 would allow council to transfer $3.9 million from this year's CIP fund to the general fund to pay police and fire salaries, cutting in half the city's $7.8 million budget deficit. It also changes the formula allocating revenues from the 0.75 percent income tax, a "temporary" surcharge approved by voters every four years since 1982. Currently, a third goes for police and fire - essentially salaries - a third to capital improvements, and a third into the general fund. If Issue 1 is approved, capital improvement funds would be cut by half, allowing the city to move up to $7.8 million into the general fund in 2010, 2011, and 2012.
Council made the same request in 2004. The Blade opposed raiding CIP funds at that time out of the concern that the money would be used to enrich fat union contracts. The issue passed, by fewer than 3,400 votes. And as we feared, police and fire unions were awarded generous contracts in 2006. Now council is back with a $7.8 million monkey on its back, asking voters for another fix of CIP cash. Stealing from CIP funds is not a long-term answer. Council must not come back to this well, and Issue 1, if passed, must be allowed to sunset in three years.
With no economic recovery on Toledo's immediate horizon, officials have to plan how they will keep up city streets, provide basic services, and meet other responsibilities if the economic malaise extends into 2010 and beyond. There will be no economic recovery if streets and public buildings are allowed to deteriorate. And politicians who let the roads become pot-holed obstacle courses generally get booted by voters.
Toledo's obdurate mayor and spineless City Council are to blame for stonewalling each other rather than addressing the city's problems. Council has refused to raise taxes and Mayor Finkbeiner did not win enough concessions in the recently signed police and fire contract.
We sympathize with the public outcry over cratered streets and deteriorating parks and buildings. We will understand if that anger finds voice at the polls. But voters need to realize that higher taxes or fees appear likely next year, even if Issue 1 passes. If it fails, those hikes could be large indeed.
Noxious as this issue is, at least its chief architect, council President Joe McNamara, is taking responsibility and showing leadership. Toledo should hold its collective nose and vote Yes on Issue 1.
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