Wednesday, Aug 15, 2018
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Toledo City Council can have no more budget mysteries


Toledo City Council, pictured here in June 2017, needs to be focused on putting the city's finances in order in 2018.

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Toledo will have a new mayor in 2018, but new leadership in the administration is not all the the city needs to address its woes. Toledo City Council needs a new agenda in the new year too. That new agenda needs to be focused on putting the city’s finances in order.

Outgoing Mayor Paula Hicks-Hudson faced much criticism in her re-election bid over questionable accounting — particularly $8.2 million that appeared mysteriously.

Mayor Mike Bell’s administration moved $8.2 million from garbage-truck sales into a debt-service fund where it sat, untouched by Mr. Bell’s successor, D. Michael Collins. The money continued to sit unused and unnoticed by Mr. Collins’ successor, Paula Hicks-Hudson, even as she pleaded with voters to approve a tax increase lest Toledo have to lay off firefighters.

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The lesson here goes beyond demanding better accounting skills in the mayor’s office.

Toledo City Council is the legislative branch of local government. The mayor’s office may write the first draft of the city’s budget, but council holds the purse strings. It is well past time — particularly in a city that will have four mayors in five years — for the city council to cast a sharper eye on that budget and on the city’s accounting too.

City council infamously paid $100,000 to the Colorado-based Center for Priority-Based Budgeting to learn how to craft a budget based on its priorities. Then council voted on its 2017 budget in March and then reviewed an analysis of Toledo’s budget based on the strategy a month later.

The new council must actually use priority-based budgeting (or some form of common-sense budgeting based on a considered set of priorities) before voting on the 2018 budget.

And council must get serious about ending the annual bad budget habit of dipping into the city’s capital-improvement fund to balance the general fund.

Future city budgets also must reflect a real, long-term plan for funding the ongoing maintenance and repair of the city’s streets. This year — an election year — saw about 30 miles of residential street work. Addressing Toledo’s crumbling streets must be an annual priority, not a campaign ploy.

Toledo’s streets have fallen into such sad shape that a city engineer estimated last year it would take $1.3 billion to fix them. It is time to consistently tackle this issue in each budget.

The Hicks-Hudson administration may have paid the political price for Toledo’s budget and accounting mysteries, but setting finances straight is going to be a task for the new administration and the new city council.

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