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Road to Ruin

By Jim Sack

Fort Wayne Reader

2012-09-20


The Jehl-Crawford-Harper initiative on spending by the three conservative city council members is both ironic and disappointing.

First, they announced they want to keep property tax levy flat. Secondly, they want to spend the Legacy money on capital improvements. Then, they want to use city’s savings to pay for the coming years’ budget shortfalls.

Here is the irony: a couple years back the Republicans attacked the Democrat mayor, Graham Richard and rode to the defense of I&M when Mayor Richard refused I&M’s first low, low, low ball offer to buy City Light.

That poor little behemoth, I&M, was under attack by nasty old big government and local conservative businessmen rallied to her side. They wrung their hands and said things like: but they are our neighbors; they might move; we should take what they offer, rate payers will cough it up anyway, and finally their ultimate slogan, business always knows best.

Mayor Richard wouldn’t be cowed. He pressed our city’s case despite the abuse and, upon leaving office, passed his team and his determination on to Mayor Tom Henry. The business chums of I&M promptly redirected their orchestrated ridicule toward Mayor Henry.

Think back. I&M had offered a chintzy $500,000. Accept it, they advised. That’s really what it’s worth, they purred. But, our mayors believed $50 million was the proper evaluation of the property and, when I&M finally settled, it was not for their low-ball $500,00, but much closer to what our mayors had said, over $35 million.

Now, Republicans on council want to use the money willed to all of us by Democrat Mayor Ivan Lebamoff, defended by Democrat Graham Richard and won by Democrat Tom Henry to repair the damage their policies and philosophy have caused, namely years of cut, cut, cutting of roads, drainage and repairs to the structures we as citizens own in common.

Correctly, Tom Henry asked the community how to invest the Legacy. Plenty of big name businessmen were at the table and they monopolized more than their fair share of the conversation. Hundreds, if not thousands of citizens participated and those recommendations will soon be handed down to council. The Harper-Jehl-Crawford team is short-circuiting not only the very public process, but also a deal their president, Tom Smith, had brokered with the mayor to hold discussion of the Legacy until after the budget battle this fall.
This is what is disturbing; the Republicans have caused the budget shortfall they now want the Legacy dollars to close. Simply put, Republicans over the years have aimed to strangle government. They want to choke off revenues because, they say, every citizen knows best how to spend their own money. It is a greedy philosophy; we are a community, not an archipelago of little islands.

That dogma ultimately means no common spaces such as parks and plazas, it means deteriorating roads, crumbling sidewalks and government that cannot fulfill even the basics such as police and fire protection for its citizens.

The three propose, additionally, to keep the tax levy flat, another way to starve our government.

They further propose to use the city’s rainy-day fund — our community savings — to pay for other essential repairs that years of cut, cut, cut policies have caused. They can drain our savings only so long to spend on needed repairs. Eventually the funds will dry up. Then what? What happens in another flood, or worse?

Already our parks are neglected. Some of our park buildings are literally falling apart. Our streets are the same way. First, they were built on-the-cheap, but with the cut, cut, cut mentality deterioration only accelerates. Our sewer system is shameful. The next time you drive downtown count the patches in the streets. Each represents thousands of dollars in repairs of sewers that were built with substandard materials because the conservatives among us are penny wise and pound foolish. Always the lowest bid. In the 40s and 50s that meant junk was installed. Today, we are paying for this philosophy of cheapness and benign neglect.

The current cut, cut, cut conservative philosophy promises similar expensive repairs for future generations. Never time (or money) to do it right, but plenty of time to do it over.

Overall, it is a selfish approach, an every-man-for-himself and devil-take-the-hindmost approach. It is medieval in its vision of toll roads, user fees and consolidation of wealth. It provides nothing for the future that we in 2012 can look back upon and proudly say that was our gift to posterity.

Soon, the annual budget process will begin and maybe the Republicans, through their cut, chop and whack crusade, will save us each the equivalent of a Happy Meal, maybe enough to add super sized fries. Big deal.

Instead, we should be planning investments in our city. What do we want to be in 20 years, in 50 years? What legacy do we bequeath to our children? How will our stewardship be remembered? How can we make our hometown the best in America?

Sadly, that is neither the Republican mindset nor the Democrats. Instead, the Republicans wave the banner of cut, cut, cut and diminish the value of our community and our quality of life with each whack. It is a philosophy that David Foster would ridicule, the Henry Rudisill would lament, that Sam Hanna would view as self-centered and regressive.

The Democrats, meanwhile, offer weak defense of their budget and no vision of the future.

First, use the Legacy money for what it was intended: transformative change. Anyone who has been involved in the downtown knows the remarkable improvement the ballpark has wrought. The Legacy money should be used for riverfront development, for a home for that grand steam locomotive 765, for educational progress and for a more vibrant downtown.

Second, do not use our reserves to make up for budget shortfalls. Let the Republicans who are bent on starving government show exactly where they would cut the mayor’s budget and why. If there is fat in the budget then let them reveal it. If they believe the budget is fair then they should have the guts to allow the levy to rise, to close the shortfall.

Given the Republican triumvirate’s current approach we would see fewer police, fewer firefighters, closed parks, chancy water and crumbling streets.

Cut, cut, cut is no way for Fort Wayne to progress.

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