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Toledo‘s elected officials say they want to fix the city’s crumbling streets. Yet they’ve opted to squabble over funding like grabby children, instead of developing a long-term plan to improve municipal infrastructure.
Mayor D. Michael Collins’ latest road repair proposal would repave about 50 miles of city streets and cost the city at least $12.2 million. Council members Mike Craig, who represents District 3, and Lindsay Webb, who represents District 6, say their districts are getting the short end of the stick in road repairs.
It’s absurd to suggest that each district should get an equal amount of funding for street repairs; the money should go to the areas of greatest need. And while it’s understandable that council members elected from districts would fight for parity for their constituents, it would be more impressive if they took the lead in developing policy that would secure long-term funding for road maintenance.
The harsh winter took a terrible toll on Toledo streets. But the city has lagged in street maintenance for years, supposedly because of tight budgets.
Former Mayor Mike Bell tried to make up for the neglect, repaving a record 61 miles last year. But those repairs, and the ones slated for this year, still only start to do what needs to be done.
Toledo elected officials use the city’s general-fund and capital-improvement budgets more or less interchangeably: If they can’t find money in one place, they look to the other. That is not an effective way to balance the books.
Neither Mr. Collins nor council has presented even short-term revenue raising proposals that would help with funding for road repairs, much less propose a solid overall fiscal vision for the city’s future. With each temporary budget patch, public confidence wanes in these officials’ ability to keep the city on track.
The city’s capital-improvement budget now totals $61.7 million. It includes $17 million for debt service, $14 million that will be transferred to the general fund for operating costs such as police and fire salaries, and $2.5 million for lease payments. One slice here, another one there, and the pie soon will be gone.
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. Some $14.1 million was used in this fashion to balance last year’s general fund.
During last year’s mayoral campaign, Mr. Collins properly opposed these kinds of transfers. But this year, he quickly acquiesced in yet another shift to balance this year’s budget.
Everyone gets uncomfortable about talk of higher taxes. But a lack of revenue in recent years has led to repeated raids on the capital-improvement fund.
Because the city’s finances are likely to remain volatile for the foreseeable future, Toledoans at least need to consider the possibility of a tax increase to address the city’s long-standing infrastructure deficiencies. You get what you pay for.