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Tuesday, September 30, 2014
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Published: Saturday, 2/15/2014 - Updated: 7 months ago

Mayor’s ’14 city budget as austere as predicted

Millions are redirected away from street repair

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Toledo Mayor D. Michael Collins released his first proposed budget Friday with some tweaks to the 2014 spending plan former Mayor Mike Bell suggested, but the new budget still requires the city to take millions away from street repair to fund other operations.

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Mayor Collins warned repeatedly since taking office last month that the 2014 budget would be austere.

The mayor restored some of the cuts Mayor Bell proposed for departments such as the municipal court and clerk of courts office, which are funded by the city but do not answer to the mayor or City Council.

“Our city faces budgetary challenges in 2014; our local government fund dollars have been reduced from $21.1 million in 2012 to $8.1 million in 2014,” Mr. Collins wrote in the proposed budget.

“Estate tax, which brought in $3.4 million in 2013, has been eliminated in 2014.”

The Collins budget predicts a $418,000 general fund surplus since total revenues are projected to reach $245.28 million while 2014 spending is set to be $244.86 million. The proposed 2014 spending is a slight increase over 2013.

In November, the Bell administration recommended the city transfer $14.1 million from the capital improvements plan budget — the same amount taken out of that fund to balance the general fund in 2013.

Then Mayor-elect Collins and then-Councilman George Sarantou, who is now city finance director, both said that number should be reduced.

Reducing the amount taken away from street repair to pay for expenses such as police and fire operations was also among Mayor Collins’ campaign promises.

However, he is still recommending council approve a 2014 budget that takes $14.1 million away from capital improvements and instead use it for the general fund.

“We are still dependent on the CIP [Capital Improvements Plan] and I truly wish we weren’t because we have a huge challenge with the condition of our streets,” Mayor Collins said. “Also, we are entering a collective bargaining year as well.”

Council must approve the budget by March 31.

Mayor Bell proposed cutting $700,000 from the court and clerk’s office compared with the 2013 allocations. Mr. Sarantou said the judges and Clerk of Court Vallie Bowman-English agreed to cut $200,000 in spending and the new Collins budget restored $500,000 to those departments.

The Collins administration found that $500,000 by increasing some of the revenues it expects to collect.

That includes $50,000 from the joint economic development zone revenues, $200,000 generated by the city’s trash fee; $50,000 from investments, $100,000 from medical runs, $50,000 from local government sharing, and $50,000 from property taxes.

The total amount collected from the city’s 2.25 percent payroll tax is one of the most crucial estimates in the city spending plan each year since it is the largest source of revenue.

Mayor Collins’ proposed budget assumes the city will collect $165.24 million from the tax, which is what Mayor Bell’s administration had budgeted for in the 2014 budget. That is about 2 percent over the 2013 estimate of $163.87 million.

But the city actually expects to collect about $160 million, which is almost $4 million less than it budgeted for in 2013, Mr. Sarantou said.

The city collected $158.38 million in 2012 and $153.62 million in 2011.

“We think we should have a better year than what we had in 2013 and that is why we are sticking to these numbers,” Mr. Sarantou said.

University of Toledo professors David Black and Oleg Smirnov, who forecast the city’s financial health under contract with City Council, predicted the income tax would generate between $156.08 million and $159.54 million in 2014.

Mayor Bell’s proposal budgeted money for 30 new police officer recruits to be hired in December, 2014, which Mayor Collins has kept in his budget.

There is no funding for new firefighters in the proposed budget but the city expects to administer a firefighter civil service exam in May.

Overtime has consistently stressed city finances year-after-year — often running excessively over-budget.

Fire overtime is budgeted at $1.53 million this year, down from $2.6 million budgeted in 2013. Police overtime is budgeted at $2.29 million, down from about $2.85 million last year.

The city was over-budget in both categories last year. The fire department actually spent $2.86 million on overtime and police spent $3.14 million on overtime.

The Collins budget is stressed by contractually obligated pay raises for the safety forces. The 2013 budget for general fund base salaries and wages was $97.8 million. It jumps to nearly $101.8 million this year.

Rank and file firefighters who belong to Toledo Firefighters Local 92 will get 3.5 percent raises in August; battalion chiefs get 3 percent increases in January, and police officers get 3 percent pay raises in July.

Mayor Bell’s last budget assumed casino revenue would increase $600,000 to a total of $5.6 million but at the same time it assumed the city would get $3.2 million from red light and speed traffic cameras, which is $1 million less than the 2013 expectation.

Additionally, the city might have to give up that money if the state approves a ban on the devices. House Bill 69, which would ban red light cameras, passed the House and is under consideration in the Ohio Senate.

Mayor Collins did not change the casino budget and red light/​speed traffic cameras assumptions.

Council President Paula Hicks-Hudson said budget hearings would start soon.

“My concern is we have to be careful and cautious with the public dollars,” Ms. Hicks-Hudson said. “I am cautiously optimistic ... I think we have to really scrutinize this budget and manage the expenditures throughout the year.”

Contact Ignazio Messina at: imessina@theblade.com or 419-724-6171 or on Twitter @IgnazioMessina.



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