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Published: Monday, 3/1/2004

Toledo spends less per capita than cities of similar size

BY TOM TROY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Toledo spends less per resident than other cities its size to provide basic city services, but it also has a lower average income than those cities.

Toledo s city government spent $626 per resident - commonly referred to as per capita - during 2002 to provide general fund services, such as public safety, trash collection, courts, and government administration.

For Jane and Joe Taxpayer, that compares favorably with the average of $735 per capita spent by Toledo and 10 other comparably sized cities studied by the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy in Pittsburgh. The cities studied had populations between 305,000 and 380,000.

However, at $17,388 annually, Toledo had the second-lowest per-capita income of the 11 cities. St. Louis was the only city with a lower per-capita income than Toledo in the study. The average per capita income for the 11 cities was $20,534.

The highest per capita spending from a city s general fund was St. Louis, with $1,192 expended per person. Wichita, Kan., spent only $431 per person annually, the institute said.

The study showed cities with high per capita spending, including Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, St. Louis, and Minneapolis, had population losses from 2000 to 2002. Toledo also lost population in that period, a decline of 1.5 percent, according to the U.S. Census. “What a devastating combination - lower incomes and higher tax burdens,” the study said.

Fire service is one area that emerges as a higher-than-average expense in Toledo than in the cities in the Allegheny Institute study, which includes Sun Belt as well as older Northern cities.

The average for the 11 cities was $131 per person. Toledo spent $157 per resident, which was third highest behind Pittsburgh s $234 and Cincinnati s $224.

Toledo s fire department staffing, at 1.77 fire department employees per 1,000 citizens, is higher than the average for the 11 cities, which was 1.63 employees per 1,000 citizens.

Joe Walter, the city s public safety director, said previous studies comparing Toledo with similar cities have rated Toledo highly in cost-efficiency. He said older cities have denser neighborhoods with older homes, and thus are at more risk from fires.

“Climate has a lot to do with it. The snow makes it harder, and there s more fires where it s colder,” Mr. Walter said. He also said much of the Toledo and Lucas County homeland security effort after Sept. 11, 2001, was undertaken through the fire department.

Toledo s fire department, along with the police and sanitation departments, have escaped the job cuts that have swept the city s general fund in the last three years.

The result is that fire has gradually taken a bigger share of the city s budget, from 23 percent of general fund spending in 1995 to 27 percent in the current year.

City Councilman George Sarantou, who chairs the finance committee, said fire, police, and sanitation have been saved from city s budget axe in the last three years.

“Citizens demand it, and they want it. Fire department staffing levels, I think, are very good, but I think residents would be troubled if there was a longer response time for medical and fire personnel to get to the scene. And safety has gotten more expensive since Sept. 11,” Mr. Sarantou said.

Toledo s general fund pays for police, fire, criminal justice, garbage pickup, park, mayor and city council, and many administrative functions. Not included are water and sewer, street maintenance, and snow and leaf removal, which come from other revenue sources such as user fees, assessments, and state taxes.

The study was unclear about whether the 10 cities general funds all paid for the same services.

Toledo was not included in the institute s analysis. The Blade obtained data from the city and analyzed it to determine where Toledo fit on the chart of the other cities the Allegheny Institute studied.

Michael Beazley, Toledo s clerk of council who co-authored a study of taxes in Lucas County last year, said the city s wealth isn t keeping pace with its costs because higher-income residents are moving out of the city.

“Our cost of services has not gone down just because the income of the residents has gone down,” Mr. Beazley said.

Mr. Sarantou agreed.

“We have lost a high number of high-paying jobs,” Mr. Sarantou said. “The problem is a lot of those people have moved out of the city.”

Despite having the area s highest income tax rate at 2.25 percent, the squeeze between Toledo s tax revenue and the rising cost of city services has resulted in threatened budget shortfalls each of the last three years.

While no one s raising the banner of a tax revolt, Toledo officials recognize the need to expand the city s tax base.

Mayor Jack Ford plans a meeting Wednesday of area mayors, council presidents, county commissioners, and boards of trustees chairmen to discuss regional government. Among other topics, he d like to bring up more tax-sharing with the suburban cities and townships.

Mr. Ford said he doesn t envision a raid on the treasuries of neighboring communities. He said regional government could save money by pooling their purchasing power and buying certain products and services en masse.

In addition, the mayor said Toledo would conserve and grow its tax base with policies that help restrict sprawl. Those policies include closely watching where new suburban waterlines fed by Toledo s massive water system are installed.

“As you continue to have sprawl and out-migration, every time someone moves to a home outside the city line it causes a ripple that might result in a few hundred dollars less coming into city coffers in a variety of ways,” Mr. Ford said. “When people move away from the largest city to an outlying area, the city loses.”



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