The State of the City address that Toledo Mayor Mike Bell delivered last night was far more upbeat than last year's, when the then-new mayor and former fire chief compared the city's budget crisis to a three-alarm blaze. Although he conceded that "the hard decisions are not behind us," he talked less this time about putting out immediate fires and more about building Toledo's future.
Mr. Bell placed proper emphasis on his efforts to promote regional cooperation on the delivery of public services and on economic-development initiatives.
The mayor cited the merger of the Toledo and Ottawa Hills fire departments, which promises to save both communities money and to improve the delivery of fire and rescue services. He noted his proposal to hire Lucas County to collect trash in the city.
He described his vital efforts to work with local development groups to market metropolitan Toledo as a region, rather than a collection of communities that compete ruinously with each other to attract business.
He properly denounced the "shell game" of tax incentives to private employers that amounts to "stealing" development rather than truly rebuilding northwest Ohio's economic base.
And he outlined his proposal to treat Toledo's water and sewer system as a regional asset, and to work more closely with customers outside the city to rationalize rate and service issues. That will require the City Council finally to act on his proposal to raise water and sewer rates to avert potential danger.
The mayor and council members still must agree on the urgent needs that must be addressed and determine the rates needed to pay for them. That won't happen as long as some council members remain fixated on finding an arbitrary percentage increase that they deem politically acceptable.
The mayor touted other city successes over the past year: a lower crime rate, hundreds of vacant structures renovated or demolished, more roads rebuilt or repaved.
He noted that his trade trip to China last year is generating investment in the city. He extolled, perhaps excessively, the prospects of Toledo's new casino as a source of growth and jobs.
Mayor Bell reminded Toledoans of the tough measures on revenue and spending that were needed to solve last year's budget problems. He gave city unions credit - probably more than they deserve - for contributing to the solution by taking some concessions.
By contrast, the mayor had little to say about the next city budget, which administration officials say could include a carryover deficit of as much as $6 million.
It's to be hoped this year's budget deliberations will be less fraught than last year's. But as the mayor warned last night: "Our challenges are not over."
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