As Toledo's roads, bridges, and sidewalks collapse from disrepair, city officials are again posed to use millions of capital improvement dollars — which pay for street repairs and other upgrades to the city’s hardware — to balance the general fund budget.
After the harshest winter in Toledo’s history, it is shortsighted and absurd to suggest that the money needed for street repairs can be used for anything but for what it is intended. Toledo Mayor D. Michael Collins and City Council must leave the fund intact and find other ways to address the general fund deficit.
For several years, the city has annually taken millions of dollars out of the capital-improvement budget to keep the general fund in the black, including $14.1 million that was used to balance the 2013 general fund. This year, the Collins administration proposed again using $14.1 million from the fund.
While campaigning, Mayor Collins said he would reduce the amount of cash taken from street repair dollars to pay for expenses such as police and fire operations. But in his proposed budget, Mr. Collins stated that, given the city’s current financial status and the time frame in which the budget must be approved, the use of capital improvement dollars is unavoidable without drastic cuts elsewhere.
The budget was submitted by former Mayor Mike Bell in November, but Mayor Collins has had since January to amend the 2014 spending plan. A former member of Toledo City Council, Mr. Collins should know the budget process by now. City Council must approve the budget by Tuesday.
While Toledo officials are preparing to sell out its businesses and residents by ignoring the need for infrastructure improvements, surrounding communities such as Sylvania and Oregon already have pledged to use budget surpluses to make road repairs or to pad their capital improvement funds.
To be sure, older central cities with declining tax bases have it a lot tougher. But if Toledo’s infrastructure continues to suffer, more established businesses will pack up and move and new industries will refuse to come.
The quality of a city’s roads, bridges, and water mains is important for economic development as well as the general quality of life that residents want.
To state the obvious: A city’s overall appeal suffers when the roads are breaking down, the sidewalks and curbs are crumbling, and the parks are left unmowed and filled with garbage.
Maintaining them in an era of austerity will take a lot more fiscal discipline than either the mayor or council has so far shown.
Using capital improvement dollars to balance Toledo’s general fund budget is like putting a Band-Aid on a gunshot wound. Toledo’s elected officials cannot keep taking the easy way out, while ignoring the long-term consequences to the city.