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A Billion, Give or Take, in Projects

By Jim Sack

Fort Wayne Reader



Of the $300-$350 million to be invested in the GE redevelopment about $40 million, one-seventh of the total, will be the developer’s money. The rest will be a collection of tax breaks, incentives, and credits with a broad hint that the Legacy Fund will be tapped. That should give we average citizens a stake in the GE development, beyond the standard promises. Six out of every seven dollars will be taxpayer money of one sort or another. Shouldn’t our out-of-pocket be a low-interest loan? Shouldn’t the ground remain in community trust with a renewable 100-year lease? Shouldn’t we have a seat at the project’s management table in addition to a shareholder position? In this deal we are expected to give $260 million to profit a developer. For that you should have an equity position.

Mayor Henry’s State of the City

It was a rousing speech punctuated by a couple dozen rounds of applause and a pair of standing ovations. Mayor Tom Henry first laid out a litany of national accolades bestowed on the city, then he added finished or on-ging projects, then developments yet to break ground, including GE and the boutique hotel. He mentioned a stellar year of athletics and presented two dozen top local stars. For anyone who has been to these usually “rah-rah” sessions where the mayor preaches to the choir and staff leads the applause, this was truly a love fest with plenty of smiles from the 300 attendees. Fort Wayne is on a roll and the mayor hinted at yet more successes to come.

Doden’s Dream

Eric Doden, the head of Greater Fort Wayne, Inc., the super-sized version of the Chamber of Commerce, made many interesting points at the late January Fifth Tuesday gathering. He boasted local businesses are finally increasing jobs and income, but not nearly as fast as competing communities. And, he lamented our beloved Rust Belt is still hemorrhaging population to the Sun-Belt.

He argued that in order to maintain, let alone improve our community’s quality of living and economic survivability, we have to attract hundreds of new, creative talents to fill the increasingly technical new jobs being created.

In short, Fort Wayne has to compete for talent based on ballparks, promenades, nightlife, fine dining, and other lifestyle options, not just the pay packet.

In oh too many cases Fort Wayne, he rued, loses recruits not just to San Francisco or Barcelona, but to Grand Rapids, Toledo, and Columbus. Furthermore, too many of our best offspring leave Fort Wayne forever for more excitement and better opportunities.

Thus, at the meeting attended by 150 of the community’s top leaders GFW floated a new tax, the Regional Development Authority tax, and proposed increases in existing taxes.

The new RDA tax would contribute to big projects such as the GE, the arena, extending the Riverfront, building the STEAM Park, and a dozen more already named projects, plus others yet to be conceived. Some seem overdue, some of those projects a bit less catalytic or transformational. In short the RDA tax might be named “Son-of-Legacy.”

His Regional Development Authority tax was pitched as roughly $100 a year more per wagge-earner. Additionally, income taxes and auto-related taxes would ratchet up another $100 or so a year to pay for street repair and infrastructure. As a way of justifying the tax hikes Mr. Doden’s offered another PP slide that showed Allen County residents paying among the lowest taxes in our quarter of the state. In short, he smiled, you can afford GFW’s project list.

The beloved and coveted Legacy Fund let the genie out of the bottle, we now have an expectation of more and better. There is an expectation of a shiny new arena and riverfront, of better parks and smoother streets, funded in part by the Legacy, in part by the RDA tax and mostly by other taxpayer contributions.

Our leaders argue that you can’t attract the next generation of business and entrepreneurs without having a gleaming community, and you can’t have more amenities and the commensurate higher standard of living without paying anteing up.

In short, tax increases are coming. In short, you will pay another two or three hundred annually for tomorrow’s big projects, such as the GE redo.

Among the 150-200 leaders at that Fifth Tuesday meeting there were only a couple dissenting voices, and that alone suggests that taxes are baked in the cake and the cake is in the oven.

Again, there is a nagging question: will the new taxes be fairly distributed, or will the middle class bear the bulk of Mr. Doden’s Dreams?

Perhaps the next Fifth Tuesday should be a slightly different assessment of all the gleaming projects, plus what the schools need, plus the costs of repairing our water systems, plus improving our roads, catching up with repairs in the parks, and the needs of public safety, coupled with PP slides on how to pay for each project, one by one. It would be nice to see which projects are pay-as-you-go with financing in hand, and which project will require a bond, or a tax increase or creative financing. January’s Fifth Tuesday, as successful as it was, was mostly a consensus builder for tax increases. Taxpayers are now expected by our leaders to fund nearly a billion dollars in projects. A responsible step would be to publically define the merits of each project and to detail its funding sources before recommending any project proceed.

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