It's been three decades since Toledo residents first approved an extra 0.75 percent tax on their incomes, but the levy is still considered temporary.
On Tuesday, city voters will be asked again to renew the tax, which is on the ballot as Issue 1.
The levy is part of the total 2.25 percent income tax paid by workers in Toledo and comes up for renewal every four years. It generates $51 million, or about 20 percent of annual revenues for the city, which relies on the money to pay for many day-to-day operations, including police officers and firefighters.
"I need the voters to renew the tax so we can keep the services at the same level that we currently have them and possibly increase them in the future," Mayor Mike Bell said. "Without that tax, there's no possibility of being able to do that … It would really jeopardize the level of our safety forces."
The tax is so crucial to the city's financial well being that Mr. Bell pushed for the measure to be placed on the ballot as early as possible in the year. That way, the city can ask for another vote later in 2012 should it fail the first time around.
The administration faces a weary constituency, battered by the economic recession and perceived lags in city services, most notably in road repairs that have suffered from budget cuts in recent years. Road repairs also have been hit by a decline in capital improvement money.
Normally, income from the 0.75 percent tax is divided into thirds, set aside for capital improvements, safety forces, and general services. But under the Bell administration, and with voter approval, the city has been using some of the capital improvement money to plug deficits in the general fund budget.
As part of the tax-renewal request, Issue 1 asks voters to allow for continued flexibility in how capital improvement dollars are used. Mr. Bell has said that, while transfers in capital improvement funds may not be necessary in coming years, he needs the flexibility to do so just in case.
At the same time, the administration is working to address the backlog in road repairs. City officials plan to borrow money to fund some of the repairs, during a time they say they can advantage of historically low interest rates.
Council recently approved a $28 million street repaving program for 2012, and the mayor has promised another $31 million for 2013. Council President Joe McNamara said those kinds of plans won't be possible in the future if the tax renewal doesn't pass.
"The bottom line is the renewal is vital to basic city services," he said. "If it fails, we literally would have to lay off hundreds, hundreds of safety forces, as well as [from] basically every department."
Some councilmen have asked whether the 0.75 percent tax should simply be made permanent, given the city's reliance on the levy.
Councilman D. Michael Collins argued that such a move would improve Toledo's bond rating by giving the city a more stable outlook.
But city officials generally conclude that the vote every four years allows residents to hold them accountable for how they spend taxpayer money.
"I think it's good to have the voters every four years decide to issue a report card to the city of Toledo," said Councilman George Sarantou, chairman of the finance committee. "Are we managing your money wisely? Are we providing good basic services and other important city services? … That way the voters can hold city of Toledo officials' feet to the fire."
Mr. McNamara said the city has increased efficiency in how it spends funds by reducing personnel through attrition, cooperating with other local government agencies in providing services, and allowing a private company to handle trash collection.
Responding to criticisms that the reduced cost of trash collection for the city should decrease the amount of income tax it needs, Mr. McNamara explained that the city is still on the hook for refuse disposal costs, which he said are expected to be $4.4 million this year.
Also, the city continues to be short of funding in other areas, and the tax money is integral to bridging that gap, he added.
Contact Claudia Boyd-Barrett at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6272.
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