Priorities are shifting in the city of Akron’s capital improvements budget as major economic development projects wind down and a necessary, long-term commitment to repair the city’s combined sewer system begins. The mix of expenditures in the proposed budget, presented Monday to the City Council, likely represents a template that will last for years.
Just two years ago, the city spent about $49 million on water and sewer projects and about $104 million on economic development. For 2013, the figures are the opposite, with about $46 million proposed for economic development and nearly $100 million for water and sewer projects, the largest item in the capital budget.
The numbers reflect the current realities facing the city, the Goodyear headquarters and Bridgestone technical center projects nearing completion and an agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency committing the city to spend $890 million to fix sewer overflows by 2027.
From a broader perspective, the percentage of the $218 million capital improvements budget devoted to economic development this year (about 25 percent) will return close to the share it has been, on average, since 1990 (about 22 percent). Most of the money goes for public works improvements such as streets. Last year’s percentage for economic development, about 38 percent, was close to the 10-year high of 39 percent, hit in 1996.
Still, if major new projects surface, the city will find its flexibility limited, a reflection of its long-term commitment to sewer improvements and the practical limits of raising sewer rates.
More, little help for cities is available from the state and federal governments, and the money often is tied to specific uses. For example, state funding for cleaning up old industrial sites for new development is being cut. Akron expects about $1 million this year, down from $3 million in 2011.
Cities are the economic engines that drive regions. Yet they are being squeezed financially, placing a premium on local officials and businesses responding creatively. As the Goodyear and Bridgestone projects show, the city has been up the challenge. It is crucial that the momentum continue, Akron relying more and more on local resources and collaboration.