Red tide: Budget woes in City Politics

. December 1, 2020.



At least the local election is over.

     No fussing or whining, no frivolous lawsuits or wild unsupported allegations, no petulance or juvenile pouting. Nope, not here, buddy, and not now.

     The votes are counted and certified. Stick a fork in it, Gertrude, ‘cause it’s done.

Election post mortem
     Sorta like the meteoric rise and ignominious fall of the abortive political career of Younes Dia.  Sure, it gives us pause that thousands of voters would vote for a convicted killer with a history of shady dealings just because his son died a hero.  Then again, lots of voters cast their ballots early, before Dia’s homicidal history was brought to light.  No matter, he’s done.

     Also done is the short but inglorious run of Mark Wagoner as chair of the Lucas County Republican Party.  Wagoner came to power on the rubble of the Jon Stainbrook years, and put fear into the hearts of the local Dems.  Here was a political power broker, who could raise a formidable war chest and recruit credible and winning candidates! Gone would be the retreads and derelicts. Wagoner would surely find the fine and upstanding to challenge Dem hegemony in the County.

     Instead, we got Dia and an assorted assemblage of other losers and the Dems swept the County races.  Wagoner even managed to lose an incumbent judgeship, which is pretty much unheard of.  Now he has given up the ghost, leaving the limelight and the GOP in the same electoral doldrums in which he found it. Which is to say, done.

Seeing red
     Then there’s the City finances. Speaking of done.

     The COVID-19 economic crisis hit the City’s budget hard, as projected income tax collections plummeted. Council had to act fast to trim millions midstream and balance a budget teetering on the brink.

     As we enter a new COVID wave and the economy remains unpredictable, Wade has proposed a budget for 2021 which shows remarkable fiscal restraint and prudence, trimming to the bare necessities of basic city services. He even led the way by cutting his own office’s bloated budget.

     Just kidding. Wade instead decided to rob Peter to pay Paul.

     The proposed budget is actually two million dollars bigger than the budget that collapsed this year. And the budget of the mayor’s office? It adds even more personnel to a staff that is already massive.

     How does Wade pay for this profligate spending?

     The old fashioned way. By raiding the capital improvement fund, which is supposed to pay for things like road improvements, to balance the general fund. And by looting over twenty mill from the rainy day fund.

     The raid of the capital improvement monies is especially eye opening, given that voters just approved a tax increase to pay for, yep, road improvements. So Wade has effectively shifted paying for roads from the old tax collection to the new tax so he can use the old tax for other purposes. A zero sum game leaving us no further ahead when it comes to road repair.

     The looting of the rainy day fund reverses several years, going back to the late Paula HH years, of building up the fund. It is intended as a cushion for a sudden, unexpected budget shortfall, to allow the City to meet its financial obligations in case of unforeseen emergency. Instead Wade is using it as a slush fund to pay for a planned and calculated budget shortfall to which his own refusal to make tough budget decisions contributes.  

     Despite the admitted fully unknown but definitely negative effects of the pandemic on the pocketbook of ol’ Frog Town, it’s a fool’s budget, balanced with questionable fiscal hijinx. Bond rating agencies prefer public bodies have a robust rainy day fund locked away and untouched. What will they say to treating it as a holiday piggy bank, and what impact will that have on the City’s bond rating?

     A budget swimming in red ink. Now it’s up to City Council to exercise some fiscal sobriety the Mayor didn’t consider. Game on.