Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry acknowledged the COVID-19 pandemic created challenges when preparing the 2021 city operating budget, but said the city was planning adequately for any future shortfalls.
“I can assure you Fort Wayne is on solid ground,” he said at a news conference Sept. 17.
“This has been a challenging year,” said City Controller Garry Morr. Although income tax revenue isn’t supposed to decrease significantly until 2022, the city is already setting aside funds to address future financial uncertainties caused by the pandemic.
Another challenge associated with COVID-19 is revenue reduction in gasoline taxes and vehicle excise taxes.
The city already has taken proactive steps to address COVID-19, including balancing the budget, delaying non-critical projects, reducing travel and holding positions open longer.
Also working in the city’s favor are rising property tax assessments and a concerted effort to maintain a strong fund balance. “We’re trying to build our cash budget,” Morr said.
While reducing expenditures due to COVID-19 concerns, the city is still committed to investments in neighborhood infrastructure, public safety and parks.
• A planned investment of $27.7 million in neighborhoods, including $23.8 million for streets and roads; $2.5 million for sidewalks and alleys; and $1.4 million for bridges.
• The Fort Wayne Police Department plans to add 100 body cameras for officers and a civilian position to manage the body camera program. In addition, the department is proposing an upgrade to the Automated Fingerprint Identification System.
• The Fort Wayne Fire Department plans to add two new engines to replace Engine 16 and Engine 18. Two academy classes are planned that will include 18 recruits in each class. Improvements to the live burn training facility include adding a three-story apartment building simulator. The department is also looking to enhance its specialty team training.
• $3 million will be invested in maintenance projects through the Parks & Recreation Department.
Overall the $186 million budget reflects a 1% increase. The city is asking for a 3% increase in employee wages to cover cost of living increases. “The goal is to take care of our employees,” Morr said.
The city administration presented the budget to City Council on Sept. 22. The budget can be viewed online at www.cityoffortwayne.org/smartgov.
Council will have an opportunity to make changes and cuts as it scrutinizes the numbers over the next few weeks.