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Published: Thursday, 11/17/2011 - Updated: 2 years ago

Bell administration pushes for quick 2012 budget passage

BY CLAUDIA BOYD-BARRETT
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The Bell administration pressed for quick action on the mayor’s 2012 budget proposal Thursday, calling on Toledo City Council to pass the plan by the end of January — two months ahead of deadline.

At a committee hearing, City Finance Director Patrick McLean said it is critical council pass the $235-million proposal well before March 31 to allow the administration to implement the plan early in the year.

That would help the city realize savings from any layoffs, should they be deemed necessary, and to work out how to tackle infrastructure needs, he said. The plan requires reduced spending on employees, criminal justice and recreation programs, and a landmark $10.85 million transfer from the capital improvements fund to the general fund.

“It is utterly and absolutely crippling for any city to not be able to move into [the approved] portion of the budget until three months into that budget,” Mr. McLean said. “We can certainly revisit. If conditions change, we go back.”

Although the budget in its current form avoids layoffs, it relies heavily on as-yet unsecured concessions from the city’s safety forces. Mayor Bell stressed again Thursday the concessions must be realized to avoid triggering loss of personnel.

“We are in very, very, very lean times. The budget was balanced based on the ability to provide services and maintain everything working. We met that mission,” the mayor said. “Anything that is increased in this budget actually gives a higher potential that we may have to lay employees off.”

Despite the bare-bones emphasis, news of the city’s latest income tax receipts indicated continued growth, sounding a positive note for the Bell administration’s finances. Income tax collections are up 5.69 percent year-to-date, with particularly strong receipts for businesses. The administration predicts the trend will continue next year, although at a more conservative 2.6 percent.

However, income tax receipts still lag about $16 million behind 2007 levels. At the same time, revenue from the state has shrunk dramatically as Gov. John Kasich has worked to balance his own budget by slashing funds to local governments.

“The income taxes are doing well, they have been going up and we’re projecting they will continue to go up. But that’s just one of our sources,” Mr. McLean explained. “All the good things that are happening with our income tax are being offset by the loss of state revenues.”

Mr. McLean said the opening of the Hollywood Casino next year should help somewhat. He predicted an extra $4.5 million would come from that operation, but it still won’t be enough to make up for the city’s overall shortfall, he said.

Councilman D. Michael Collins suggested the city partner with other municipalities to pressure Mr. Kasich for relief. But Mayor Bell doubted such an action could work, given the state’s own fiscal problems.

“It’s like trying to get water out of a rock,” the mayor said. “The only thing we can do is cut back, and what we need to work out is what we’re not going to do anymore.”

Mr. Collins also questioned the Bell administration’s high estimation of personnel costs, given that the number of employees paid for through the general fund has fallen considerably in the last few years. Deputy Mayor Steve Herwat indicated that much is due to wage increases and hikes in health insurance costs.

The councilman said he also would like to see a projected $7 million deficit for this year included in the calculations for 2012. Mr. McLean has indicated a pending sale of three city parking garages to the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority could eliminate that deficit.

Councilman Joe McNamara meanwhile expressed concern with the mayor’s proposed transfer in monies from the capital improvements fund.

“I recognize it as a necessary evil to continue to pay the salaries of our safety forces,” Mr. McNamara said. “But we can’t continue to shortchange our infrastructure or our city falls apart.”

Contact Claudia Boyd-Barrett at: cbarrett@theblade.com or 419-724-6272.



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