Of the seven tax questions on this fall’s ballots in Lucas County and the city of Toledo, the most problematic is Issue 5. If Toledo voters approve the proposal, it would levy a new property tax to raise money for city parks and recreation programs. The Blade recommends a YES vote on Issue 5, but we wish the choice were clearer.
The proposed 1-mill, 10-year tax would yield a projected $3 million a year that advocates insist could be spent only on parks and recreational facilities. The levy would cost the owner of a $100,000 home $30.62 a year.
Advocates of Issue 5 argue that establishing a dedicated revenue stream would enable the city to add parks, enhance existing parks and swimming pools, expand recreation programs and centers, create summer jobs for young people, update its master plan for parks, and sell bonds for long-term capital improvements. Pursuing these goals, they say, would improve the quality of life and health of Toledo residents, especially its young people, and would promote the city’s economic revitalization.
Earmarking any revenue for a particular purpose is risky. It restricts the flexibility of the mayor and City Council to deal with a fiscal emergency.
But advocates note that city parks have lost out in the competition for scarce public dollars in recent years, and have endured severe budget cuts. To maintain park operations, the city has drained a fund created by the Block family (which publishes The Blade) that was intended to support longer-term park initiatives.
Toledo spends much less on parks and recreation per resident, and has fewer acres of parkland, than comparable Midwest cities. Too many city parks are decrepit and poorly maintained.
Nearly all of Toledo’s suburban neighbors already levy property taxes for parks. Advocates of Issue 5 say these communities have shown little interest in considering proposals for a region-wide recreational authority.
Supporters also argue that approval of Issue 5 would free up money in the city’s general fund that is now spent on parks and recreation, which could be applied to police and fire protection.
Opponents counter that city government should not compete with local nonprofit institutions that operate recreational programs. They propose financing park improvements through such things as foundation grants and corporate sponsorships, rather than with new tax dollars at a time when they say the city needs to hire police officers and fix streets.
Toledo voters are inundated this fall with requests for new and renewed property taxes for educational institutions and human services agencies, as well as for recreation. City voters should not confuse Issue 5 with Issue 20, which would levy a separate 0.9-mill property tax on Lucas County homeowners to support the regional Metroparks system.
It would be understandable if some hard-pressed taxpayers concluded that however desirable the goal of better city parks is, now is not the time to ask for new money for them. But the longer the task of rebuilding Toledo’s park system is deferred, the more difficult and expensive that necessary job will become.
That’s why, on balance, Toledoans should vote YES on Issue 5.