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…and now, a few word about the coming year

By Jim Sack

Fort Wayne Reader

2013-01-07


Someone said there is no time, only clocks, that the change from 2012 to 2013 is more about psychology and less about reality, that this pause as winter starts is created simply to sell presents.

We will all resume work in a few days to provide for ourselves and our families, and in the case of politicians to make the community a better place. And, above all that is what most local politicians strive to achieve: a better community, county and state. We just go about it different ways, some of us naively, some with a bit more guile, some who offer the unvarnished truth, others who try to deodorize a skunk.

At City Council this coming year the underlying theme will be “doing more with less.” It has been the mantra of the Henry administration for over five years now. They have faced an electorate who have chosen penny-pinchers to serve on City Council, so the Henry administration will have to find a way to repair roads, sewers, curbs, water lines and the rest of our infrastructure with many fewer dollars. By nearly everyone’s admission the administration is not keeping up.

And, it is rumored that money will only get tighter. Much of the city’s revenues come from property taxes. Caps on property tax revenues enshrined in the Constitution a couple years ago will show their fullest effect this year, 2013, and next, as tonier neighborhoods in the suburbs reach their cap out and the burden shifts to the inner city… New property tax revenues will come only through squeezing rocks. That will force the city to find other ways to raise money to pay for maintenance, let along improvements. Anyone who examines the parks knows that maintenance has gone abeggin’. If a stitch in time really saves nine then expect hundreds of stitches to be needed when we finally have to pay the piper…to run a couple of metaphors together.

The city will try to raise income taxes, they will search for public-private partnerships, they will channel tax dollars and they will try to invest in tax base building. Wherever taxes or user fees can be imposed, expect both city and county to do just that.

Consider this: much of the center of Fort Wayne is off the tax rolls – churches, schools, public buildings, non-profits and parks. You can bet that when planning chiefs meet with the Mayor, an unspoken criterion applied to any development is whether it will contribute to property tax receipts. When the North River Project finally comes to fruition expect it to be on the tax rolls…as a public private development.

Fort Wayne is becoming a corporate city. Public-private means that we work as partners with companies to foster projects in and around the city by giving them first a seat at the planning table; secondly tax incentives; and thirdly ongoing privileged status. The Harrison Square project, now entering Phase Two, is a prime example of we taxpayers through our government offering favorable arrangements to entrepreneurs to propose, build and profit with sizeable public participation. As Deputy Mayor Mark Becker said government is here to create a favorable atmosphere for doing business in Fort Wayne.

Expect much of the Legacy Fund to be deployed in public-private partnerships where leverage would be and should be king. Administration officials talk of one-to-one or greater leverage. It should be significantly greater. The Trails consortium has shown the way on this with a five-to-one match of cash and people power.

And, the Legacy should remain transformational. Some council members are already grousing that it is losing its way. Current projects are a mix of infrastructure and transformation — the River Study leads to significant transformation; changing the intersection of Fairfield and Ewing does not. Decorative lighting of overpasses is inspiring, but certainly not transformational; establishing a college campus in the center of town most certainly is. The youth sports initiative may be as important as the river study, but in both cases it is the follow through that counts.

Fort Wayne is verging on a renaissance. The ball park has been a catalyst. The Harrison is in the air and leasing. The Anthony Wayne Bank building is soon to have tenants again. The second downtown hotel suggests a third will soon be needed. Redevelopment of the landmark Randall is in process, the City is about to buy a swath beside the ball park for redevelopment, the North River Project is being murmured about again, the Scottish Rite will soon sprout legions of students to enliven the center and more, much more can be expected.

The new year should be a very good year for Fort Wayne. Many people have brought our city back from the neglect of the 60s and 70s. For a change, it seems city leaders are pulling together rather than in a dozen different directions, and that is probably the most important part of the puzzle.

On a sadder note, the new year will start without John Kalb who died just a few days before Christmas. Mr.Kalb was a community activist, neighborhood leader, deeply involved in the workings of the city and always trying to make the county a better place through analysis, insight and participation. He served on boards and commissions, he donated money and time to his party, he organized a political breakfast club where the powerful leaders and newcomers alike could ruminate over ideas. He was not shy about offering his thoughts whether face-to-face or at a public hearing. John was a generous and thoughtful man. He added more than his share.

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