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Tackling Fort Wayne's fiscal 'problems': A Modest Proposal

By Jim Sack

Fort Wayne Reader


You may have heard that Fort Wayne is in dire financial shape. You may also have heard that Fort Wayne is in much, much better financial shape that the majority of cities in the country and almost all of our Hoosier brethren and sistern.

Both are true, sort of.

We are in rather good shape by more than a few standard indicators: we have money in the bank; we have a sizeable inheritance coming, the Legacy; and recently we have received two “rebates” from the governor. In all, we are some $100 million in the black.

But the Henry Administration is running around like so many Chicken Littles crying the fiscal sky is falling. Members of the Republican City Council have joined in the mania, shouting “structural deficit” whenever they appear before a microphone. Almost all are ready to increase your taxes.

But even if they are just crying wolf, it sets us to thinking of creative ways FW can raise revenue without decreasing services.

First, lease space in Citizens Square. There are plenty of empty offices and overly wide corridors. Republicans fear government will naturally expand to fill the vacuum, so pre-emptively lease it to local business. We could use a grocery, pharmacy and a liquor store downtown. That could raise $500,000 a year.

While we are on the topic of monetizing city hall, let’s hire Asher Agency to put advertising in the men’s rooms. Men are captive for some 60-seconds, so an advert for Viagra or Fruit of the Loom makes sense, and dollars. And in the elevators, post ads for the thrill rides at Cedar Point. These are only starting points. Perhaps a Hard Ball Capital logo over the entrance to the Redevelopment Commission?

Sell building naming rights to the friends of Harry Baals. Let them put up or shut up. Cost: $500,000 per year, not including the cost of electricity to light the signs. If they don’t buy the rights, HWI probably would.

Lease our streets. The Republicans will buy into this, especially since My Man Mitch has shown the way. Broadway could be leased to General Electric. That might encourage GE to do something positive with their acres of mothballed buildings. They could even change the stop signs to represent that 1880s logo and set up toll booths at Taylor and Jefferson to pay for the costs of taking the street back to brick. Win-win situation, plus it would reduce traffic and clean our air. Democrats could certainly buy that result.

Same could be done with Jefferson, which leads right past Lutheran Hospital. Since impoverished Lutheran needed a tax abatement to make ends meet, perhaps the tolls collected would help balance their budget. Same with Vera Bradley. Give her a section of I-69 to reach snowbirds heading to Florida. If enough streets are leased we could pocket $10,000,000.

And while on the topic of streets why not lease the signs, too. Stop signs could read “STOP for a tasty burrito at Taco Bell”. Or, “YIELD to your desires and visit Showgirl II.”

Go a step further – monetize all city property.

Privatize the water, sewer and garbage services. We sold our City Light to I&M, why not the rest? How about grades of water. Comcast offers the perfect model; levels of service. Brown water could be sold as basic service and promoted as if it had the perfect mix of tastes for the budget customer.

Lease the parks. Who needs Al Moll and his naively dedicated staff? Monsanto could do so much better. Add admission booths at the entrances and replace all the natural foliage with genetically engineered trees. No more ash borers; instead Shoaff and Foster Parks could become mutant corn fields.

Sell advertising space on police cars and fire engines. Fire trucks and squad cars are moving billboards with lights and blaring horns. Just send officers into a neighborhood, turn on the lights and sell ice cream to excited kids. Instead of begging a tax abatement, Edy’s could partner with the FWFD. Plus, the Pavlovian side effect would be kids associating officers with treats.

Put police officers on a commission basis. It’s a new incentive to bring more bad guys to jail. Station officers outside north side and west side bars, even the country clubs, so they can go after the really big money. A point system could be established with top scores for nabbing murderers and fewer points for jaywalkers. The officer with the top score every four years gets to be chief.

Perhaps the city could work a deal with the county whereby the city rounds ups whoever looks guilty and the county puts them to work rebuilding streets and roads. Inmates could even be charged for renting rooms and food in the jail. Win-win.

We could add wi-fi in fire trucks to help prioritize responses. Pumpers arriving at a fire would first check whether a citizen was current on their taxes. A federal grant could fund the devices, which would include a credit card terminal for speedier service.

We might embrace those stickers the Fraternal Order of Police and the various State Police alliances trade for donations. If you have an official FWPD QR code prominently displayed, the office might see fit to issue only a warning. People could buy up to cover DUIs, speeding tickets and the inconvenience of late night calls to the sheriff.

The Mayor’s car also could carry advertising. In fact, get the mayor a t-shirt. Steel Dynamics might rent him for a year at a cost of $1,000,000. Same with council members. Or, officials could wear different t-shirts to honor their biggest contributors. It could become quite a colorful tradition as time goes by and truly give meaning to the “best government money can buy.”

Perhaps at age five every kid could be tested and slotted into a job path. No fussing around anymore with “finding yourself,” just full speed ahead to that cog-in-the machine job. Think of the savings. Naming rights again. North Side becomes BAE Tech; Central is reopened as an extension of the Hilton. And make the little buggers walk. If they can’t make it to school on their own two feet they don’t deserve an education. Your grandparents walked five miles to school each day, each way. The Democrats would like this because it would take hundreds of stinky buses off the streets and encourage mass transit. And why 12 years of schooling when a career in yard work or piece-work should only require six? The savings could amount to $50,000,000 in just the first year. No more wasteful Code Blue/Code Yellow battles.

A problem: more people would turn to the trustee office for assistance. But make that dependant upon showing picture ID, passing an essay test on the Constitution, property ownership (up to date taxes) and a job. No job, no unemployment benefits. Save millions annually.

And who really needs a City Council? An appointed board of directors could better manage Fort Wayne, anyway. Toss out home rule provisions and let the Secretary of State appoint the board. That would save advertising public meetings because there wouldn’t be any. On second thought, that might end up costing more because the current council foregoes pay raises while a board of directors, on the lines of Goldman Sachs, would certain raise pay for themselves, for their management team and for the top 1% of staff.

And what about casinos?

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©2018 Fort Wayne Reader. All rights Reserved.