Fiscal flip-flopping

Mayor Collins’ proposed changes keep the city budget balanced, but structural repairs still are needed


Toledo Mayor D. Michael Collins’ proposed changes to the new city budget suggest a desire to ride out the recession by kicking the can down the road.

The mayor’s proposal yields a balanced budget on paper. But sooner or later, city officials must address the need to build a structurally sound long-term fiscal future for Toledo. Mr. Collins, who is barely two months into his term, has yet to reveal such an economic agenda.

Mr. Collins estimates general-fund spending at $244.86 million in the new budget — a slight increase over last year — and predicts general revenue of $245.28 million.

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To trim city spending, he continues to go after low-hanging fruit, including reductions in his own office. Making good on a campaign promise, Mr. Collins trimmed nearly $300,000 from the budget of the mayor’s office, eliminating three employee and four intern positions. That’s appropriate.

This week’s, though, Mr. Collins gave the city’s 911 operators a 2.5 percent pay increase and more sick time. It is not so much a question of whether those workers deserve the $97,000 in additional compensation, but whether it is prudent to provide it now, given the city’s still-battered economy.

The raises drew further ire after Mr. Collins initially announced on Thursday that the city’s public pools would close this summer because of a lack of money. Within hours, he changed course, declaring that the Police Athletic League may be able to help with funding. That head-spinning reversal was correct, but it shouldn’t have been necessary.

Mayor Collins, a former head of the Toledo police officers’ union, received broad support from organized labor during his successful campaign last year. This week’s events revived questions about his ability to say no to the unions that put him in office, and to avoid the appearance of repaying his benefactors.

Contractually obligated pay raises for Toledo’s uniformed public-safety workers pose a bigger financial burden. City firefighters are scheduled to get 3.5 percent raises in August, and fire battalion chiefs will get 3 percent increases next January. Police officers are slated to receive 3 percent pay raises in July.

Mayor Collins is wise to make economic development a budget priority. The city’s development director, Matt Sapara, receives an annual salary of $127,504 — more than the mayor and every other municipal employee. Mr. Sapara will have to show some swift, visible successes.

City Council members have been holding budget hearings and must approve the spending plan by March 31. They need to do more than rubber-stamp the executive budget proposed by former mayor Mike Bell and amended by Mayor Collins. They should be prepared to offer creative, effective ideas of their own, because they bear equal responsibility with the mayor for managing Toledo’s long-term economic health.

The current budget proposal is technically balanced, but it needs to be more than that. It also needs to provide a credible fiscal blueprint for the city’s future.