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Published: Saturday, 5/24/2014 - Updated: 2 months ago

Mayor worried about budget deficits, costs

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Toledo’s austere general fund and capital improvements budgets are showing signs of distress with cost overruns and lagging revenues.

Mayor D. Michael Collins said he is concerned by some recent financial reports, which include a prediction that red-light and speed-camera revenue will be more than $1 million short of the $3.24 million expected this year.

“When we did this budget, I asked every department to cut 2 percent, with the exception of police and fire, which each had to cut 0.5 percent,” Mayor Collins said. “Once we close the second quarter, we will make adjustments.”

Fines from the cameras feed the city's general fund, which is used to pay for daily operations, including police and fire salaries.

Toledo’s main source of general-fund revenue is its 2.25 percent payroll tax, which yielded $40.38 million during the first four months of 2014 — 9.55 percent more than the same period last year.

The 2014 budget depends on the city collecting $165.24 million from the payroll tax.

That revenue increase was slightly offset in the city’s monthly financial report that showed police overtime was over budget and overall general-fund expenses ran 1.1 percent over budget through April 30.

City Finance Director George Sarantou said the overrun was chiefly from one-time contractual payments to police and fire for things such as clothing allowances and severances.

“The 1.1 percent is not a huge concern,” Mr. Sarantou said. “I have more of a concern over police overtime, especially as we go into the summer months when it traditionally goes up.”

The city spent $811,265 on police overtime through April 30, but should have held that number to $764,167, according to the general-fund budget.

Mr. Sarantou said the city would have to find a way to plug the $1 million budget hole from the lower-than-expected camera fines.

The devices’ use statewide is in peril from a bill introduced this week in the Ohio Senate that would require a police officer to personally witness violations caught by the cameras before civil citations may be issued — effectively rendering them redundant.

A separate bill passed the Ohio House of Representatives a year ago, 61-32, to ban camera enforcement outright for traffic lights and allow them for speed enforcement only in 20 mph school zones when a police officer is present. That bill has stalled in the state Senate.

The city collected $1.35 million from casino revenue, which was roughly 9 percent below budget through April 30.

Additionally, the Collins administration remains at an impasse with the state of Ohio over its unexpected request for a rent hike at One Government Center.

The city’s capital-improvements budget — which was reduced by $14 million to keep the general fund balanced — has several unexpected expenses. It includes $600,000 toward the construction of a new Fire Station No. 12 in North Toledo, the cost of which has skyrocketed from original estimates.

The Bell administration last year said the building would cost about $2.7 million, but fresh estimates boost that to $5.6 million, including the new request for $600,000.

Mayor Collins blamed the overruns on environmental problems with the site.

There also are requests to spend $300,000 to improve and replace old pipes and other equipment at the Hoffman Road Landfill; $274,095 for security equipment at Toledo Municipal Court, and $175,000 for a new 311 system. The 311 system would cost $500,000 in 2015 and another $500,000 in 2016.

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



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