When Toledo Mayor Mike Bell wanted to raid the city’s road fund for money to spruce up Promenade Park, many taxpayers argued that the money should be spent fixing city streets instead. Now the mayor has proposed the biggest street-repair budget in Toledo history, and some people still aren’t happy — but they have a different complaint.
Mr. Bell wants to increase the 2013 budget for street repair by 41 percent over this year, and more than triple the amount spent in 2010. The need for such spending is evident to anyone who drives Toledo’s potholed streets.
The $21 million he proposes — $32 million when state and federal matching funds are included — would be the city’s largest-ever investment to improve streets. The previous record was nearly $19 million spent by former Mayor Jack Ford in 2005, the same year he lost a tough re-election battle to Carty Finkbeiner.
As it happens, Mayor Bell is up for re-election next year, if he chooses to run. That makes the comparison to his predecessor apt. City Council President Joe McNamara, who may have mayoral aspirations of his own, characterized the road bonanza as a “political strategy.”
Mr. McNamara noted that the mayor’s 2013 budget proposal includes transferring almost $14 million from the city’s capital improvement fund to the general fund. When Toledo voters renewed the “temporary” 0.75 percent municipal income tax in March, Mayor Bell said that continued transfers might not be necessary, but that he needed the continued flexibility to tap the capital account just in case.
The council president rightly suggested that it’s time for the Bell administration to wean itself from these funds. As tax revenues rise, he has a point.
There also may be merit in Mr. McNamara’s charge that fixing more streets in an election year invites suspicion. But there’s no political capital to be gained by complaining. Voters demanded that streets take priority, and Mayor Bell responded with $60 million in improvements over two years.
Infrastructure improvements also fit into the mayor’s goal of making Toledo more attractive to businesses that are looking to expand or set up shop here. So the expenditure is defensible as an economic-development tool as well.
Mayor Bell should be applauded for listening to the concerns of Toledo residents, no matter what the calendar suggests. But he still needs to balance his pothole-plugging plan and other spending priorities with appropriate attention to the city’s long-term capital budget.
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