Fort Wayne City Council introduced a resolution during its Sept. 10 regular session that outlines the council’s response to its delay of Democratic Mayor Tom Henry’s new Investing in Neighborhoods Now program.
The resolution, per council documents, proposes an "improved appropriation request" that would see the $1.25 million earmarked for neighborhood partnerships plus a $1 million increase in appropriations for those projects.
John Perlich, public information officer for the city, advised Business Weekly that the mayor’s office had not been aware of the council’s proposed alternative until it was reported by local media, and was in the process of reviewing this new resolution on the morning of Sept. 9.
“The original plan submitted to City Council for approval had strong public support,” Perlich stated in an email to Business Weekly. “Mayor Henry and city employees have been and continue to be champions of making neighborhood investments and meeting the needs of residents and businesses to move our community forward in a positive direction.”
At council's Aug. 27 meeting, members voted 5-3 to delay discussion and a decision on the program until Oct. 8 after cutting $250,000 from a façade program and the entire $1 million for a house repair loan program. This money, if not allocated elsewhere, would remain in the cash reserves. Councilman Michael Barranda, R-at large, said during that meeting that it was the first time that council was hearing the completed plan. At one point he asked council attorney Joseph Bonahoom if council could reallocate money in the proposal. Bonahoom said that council could only make cuts to the proposed expenditures.
Henry's program, as presented to council, would use $3.86 million that the city of Fort Wayne recently got back from the Department of Local Government Finance when it realized the city had collected more income tax than it had budgeted for in 2019. The money was to go to a variety of programs including for grants for business facade upgrades, loans to homeowners for repairs and the Fort Wayne Police Department to combat the opioid crisis. It would put $610,000 in the city’s cash reserves.
According to a council statement, members will use the time during the postponement "to initiate productive conversations with the mayor and his administration about the highest and best uses of these additional income tax funds, which were deposited in May."
Council recommends doubling the investment in neighborhoods, from $1 million to $2 million, with money going to the four zoned area partnerships as well as to other neighborhood investment options, "allowing more residents to invest in and participate within their neighborhoods. With lack of communication from the Mayor’s Office, Councilmen were not able to advocate for the neighborhoods during the decision-making process."
Councilman Russ Jehl, R-2nd, said in the news release, “Doubling the investment in our neighborhoods is Council’s primary improvement to the plan. The Mayor’s omission of Council resulted in a well-intentioned, but imbalanced bill, where most of the public funds were to be given away to private uses and businesses. Council has proposed these improvements to the plan to better balance our community’s wants, needs, and responsibilities.”
According to the release, "The request to the Mayor is simple. Work with Council to develop a more balanced plan that invests in our neighborhoods, and bring a clean, collaborative appropriation bill back to Council on October 8th to be discussed and voted upon."
Barranda said in the release, “I don't believe that my ideas are better than anyone else's. But as a member of our fiscal body and representative of the people of Fort Wayne, Council's ideas deserve to be heard. This resolution is an attempt to participate in a conversation that is long overdue."
The resolution will be discussed in upcoming weeks.
"If the resolution passes, council will request a signature by the Mayor to indicate his willingness to direct City staff to work with Council to improve the appropriation bill," according to the release.