During last year’s election campaign, Toledo mayoral candidate D. Michael Collins properly pledged to reduce the amount of capital improvement money, intended for such things as road repairs and park improvements, that got diverted instead to help balance the city’s operating budget. His new budget plan starts to keep that promise, but too slowly.
This year, the mayor’s budget shifted $14.1 million from the capital improvement program to cover general-fund costs such as police and fire salaries. His plan would reduce those allocations to $11 million next year, about $7.8 million in 2016; $6.8 million in 2017, and $6 million in 2018.
Yet Mr. Collins likely would inspire greater taxpayer confidence if he laid out a long-term budget strategy for the city. If, for example, he is examining revenue-generating initiatives, he has not shared them with his constituents.
Like his predecessor, former mayor Mike Bell, Mr. Collins — with the consent of City Council — has tapped capital funding to meet operating expenses. It’s an easy target, but Toledo’s infrastructure has greatly suffered as a result.
After city officials divert this year’s $14.1 million to satisfy general fund obligations, they will have raided the capital cookie jar for nearly $65 million in recent years. Those withdrawals exceed the current size of the account: $61.7 million.
City Council approved Mayor Collins’ capital improvement budget last week after last-minute maneuvering. Council members sought to cut spending on such things as playground equipment, parking lot improvements, and repairs to the Safety Building, in favor or more money to fix streets in their districts.
That suggests another chronic problem with the city budget: Council members often seek to grab as much money as they can from the road-repair fund — $12 million this year — at the expense of other needed capital improvements. Ignoring one infrastructure nightmare to address another is at best a temporary fix.
Some council members have criticized the budget shuffle in recent years, but finally voted with their colleagues to approve it. The council and Mayor Collins owe it to Toledoans to develop a long-range fiscal vision for the city that does not rely so heavily on temporary expedients.
Fighting to grab as much of the pie as possible — rather than figuring out ways to bake a better pie — erodes public confidence in elected officials’ leadership skills, and their ability to guide the city to economic health.