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Money, money, money… money…
By Jim Sack
Fort Wayne Reader
A raid on the legacy.
For a couple of years, now, the mayor and most council members have pledged that Legacy Fund dollars should be reserved for “transformational “ and “catalytic” projects. So much for that promise.
Council, at Mayor Henry’s request, have now decided to spend $1.7 million not on the future, but the past, namely paying lingering bills from last years “unusually” harsh winter. First, it was harsh by historic standards, something like the sixth coldest in the last hundred years, depending on your choice of instruments; but 2011 was nearly as cold, as was 2003, while the 70s and 80s were more generally cold and snowy. What is important to consider is we had basked in the “benefits” of global warming of the past decade, giving council the excuse to cut budgets that pay for repair, maintenance, salt and snow hauling.
Council caused this shortfall through parsimony and near-sightedness. And, you may also remember they chose to slash the city’s reserves. This vote sets bad precedent and will be cited for years to come to justify plugging any manner of operating shortfalls — of which there are many and will be many, many more — and thereby absolving council of the need to prepare for the future.
And therein lies the problem: council refuses to fully fund government.
Now, if you think government is the boogieman come to take away your rights, that sobriquet sounds perfectly fine, but if you look at government as the agent of the people effecting our will to build and maintain a sterling place to live then Crawford and the others are the boogiemen.
There was quite a process a couple years back that forced council to raise taxes in order to establish regular and reliable streams of revenue to pay for infrastructure maintenance, instead of gobbling the Legacy in one sitting
But, again, instead of prudent budgeting they have taken the easy way out, albeit with handwringing and faux “heartburn,” and have dipped into what the vast majority of Fort Wayners strongly believe should be reserved for what Mayor Henry rightly calls “transformational” uses.
Ironically, this vote follows but a week on the heals of the unlikely team of Councilman Geoff Paddock and Tom Didier getting slapped down for attempting to end run the Legacy process with a $2 million proposal of their own. Way back then they were told to go through the new process that now requires almost every funding request be scrutinized first by an appointed panel. This was the mayor’s edict a week or so ago. Now it seems he is the one trying to end-run the system.
The “draft” plans are in for the development of the city’s central riverfront and a centerpiece is a controversial piece of ground. Remember the salvage yard on the near north side where tons and tons of scrap metals and solvents were dumped, sorted and recycled into new steel and pop cans, or soaked deeply into the soil? The question is how badly polluted is the land, how toxic is it, is it safe for you and Fido to walk on or breath when the wind blows and the dust rises? The mayor knows, thanks to a study, but he ain’t tellin’ — the defining study is top secret.
Regardless, it will cost a fortune to clean up, and there-in lies the question confronting city taxpayers: who will pay? Prepare to open your wallets. The owners, of course, are trying to drive the hardest of bargains, while the city is salivating over the development plans for the site that runs from the river north between Harrison and Clinton. The combination of greed and lust do not bode well for taxpayers.
So far, city officials have been frustrated and angry with the Rifkin family, who own the toxic ground and who became one of the richest families in Indiana thanks, in part, to their leeway to saturate that ground with toxins.
Perhaps that is the lesson in this matter. Of course, in the end, we will pay and the Rifkins will benefit, that is the way business-friendly government works. Heck, the mayor, a recipient of significant Rifkin campaign money, might even name the place Rifkinland in gratitude for any crumbs tossed his way. The lesson to us all is that left unregulated companies will pollute at your expense to pad their bottomline. That is why we now have the Environmental Projection Agency and so many other offices working to clean up decades of trashing the environment.
Remember what mom said: clean up after yourself. That should be our local environmental policy and the approach we should use with Rifkinland. They made the mess, they became rich by making the mess and they should clean the mess. The city should not make an offer until that is done, campaign gifts aside.
But, here’s how it works…
The congressman visits the factory for a tour and a chat. He leaves with a fat check after 45 minutes of thoughtful discussion including the key question how he, the congressman, can help the “industry. “ The congressman follows up with notes and calls to make sure the businessman knows he is looking out for the businessman’s interests. Perhaps new legislation will be written, perhaps votes will be influenced, perhaps calls will be made to regulators to apply a bit of pressure on behalf of the businessman’s industry.
Now, ask yourself, how often has the congressman, or any politician for that matter, ever come to your home for a chat? Every now and then you see them at a rally, or an association meeting, or they surprise you at your door on one of those visibility walks through a neighborhood.
That is the way the game is played. The politician regularly and frequently visits deep-pocketed businessmen for tours and long chats with one goal: money. Most politicians spend their days thinking of how to raise the oodles of dollars needed to compete in an election.
When was the last time a politician stopped in for coffee? How many thousands do you give? That is, in part, why Mayor Henry can not long turn his back on Rifkinland.