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Amateur Hour at Council
By Jim Sack
Fort Wayne Reader
Council has voted to raise taxes a slim notch to the applause of most and the hisses and angry diatribes of a few. And that itself is significant. When do you recall applause at the passage of a tax?
The matter in question is the rise in the LIT, the Local Income Tax, by .13. Not much per person per year, something around $50 to $75 for a family of four making a median income, but it will go a long way to fixing our neglected sidewalks and alleys, but more over pay for Phases Two and Three of riverfront development, the overwhelming popularity of which gave backbone to the six councilmen who eventually voted for it at council on the 11th of July.
Popularity. Five councilmen were contacted to ask how calls and emails were running concerning the vote. Two
responded: Tom Didier and Geoff Paddock. Both reported four-to-one ratios in favor. Paddock wrote that among his
constituents the number was five-to-one. At public hearings supporters dwarfed the numbers against usually by three-
to-one, with only a handful of angry citizens threatening to burn their hair (or move to South Whitley) if the tax were to pass. Questions more were about the speed of implementation, or which sidewalks would be fixed or where alley reconstruction would take place, than about the tax itself.
Until the night of the vote, that is.
First, the matter was to be discussed in Jason Arp’s committee, Mr. Arp having taken over the reins of the committee just that night from Councilman John Crawford who sponsored and guided the bill to success. Mr. Arp, the foremost opponent to the bill, clearly had no idea how to manage the discussion to keep the matter on track.
Or perhaps he was so focused on launching angry outbursts that he lost sight of his role as chairman of the committee. Mr. Barranda compounded the confusion by offering a slug of amendments which themselves generated friendly amendments, questions of procedure, a few testy exchanges, and required the council attorney to untangle the confusion on more than a few occasions. It was amateur hour at city council.
The enthusiastically-lawyerly Mr. Barranda wanted council to ask the Community Investment Board, the CIB, to pitch in with a few million. It was a resolution with no legal standing — not a law, just a resolution — but it forced council to wade through detailed “what-if” discussions that clearly should have been researched in advanced. As the unruly debate progressed it was left to Joe Bonahoom, council attorney, and the able city clerk Lana Keesling, to untangle the confusion.
At one point Mr. Arp and Councilman Dr. Crawford got into a bit on an exchange. Mr. Arp, a free marketeer, implied that the ball park was a bad use of public funds and that the market place, left to its own devices, would have resulted in the transformation of our city center that we are witnessing with hundreds of millions of new investment.
Anyone who was in Fort Wayne from the 60s forward is fully aware of the economic destruction of the center of town, the vacant lots, the
dilapidated houses, the neck-high weeds, the empty storefronts, the lonely pedestrian wondering what had happened.
So, Dr. Crawford asked the question: would you have voted against the ballpark? Arp avoided the question with a let-the-magic-of-the-marketplace mantra. Dr. Crawford asked again, and again Arp failed to answer the question. Dr. Crawford, you see, has street cred. He stuck his neck way out on the ballpark vote and the smoking ordinance and,
consequently, lost his bid for re-election. They were both ordinances that made the city a better place, so the Doctor asked the question again. Arp fumed.
In the end, Arp, Ensley and Jehl voted against the bill. Jehl waxed on and on about how he was honored to take part in
such a spirited debate among council and citizens. It sounded a bit hollow.
Barranda tried to make lemonade out of lemons by voting for the bill that he clearly disliked. Having it Both Ways might be his next campaign slogan.
Messrs. Freistroffer, Paddock, Hines and Didier joined Dr. Crawford in the up vote. Monsieur Didier offered a tightly scripted amendment to cut the rise and save a family of four about the cost of one breakfast at Klemm’s, hold the sulfite-laden bacon. $8.40. It was a meaningless gesture.
If we want a clean, safe, beautiful, active and cultured city we have to pay for it. Read the history of any great city for substantiation. Mayor Graham Richard’s bold move to build the ballpark has paid off in spades and has been followed by millions in private investment, as well as millions more in public money. The neck-high weeds are all but gone. The “yes” vote was about maintaining our momentum and finally taking advantage of our greatest nature resource.
As mom use to say, Fort Wayne is good at studies that just collect dust. That corner has been turned.
In the back of the room Karl Bandemer, the deputy mayor alternately squinted to understand the arguments and then finally smiled when the voted concluded. “It is amazing what we can do when we have the funds,” he once said about a flurry of newly paved streets. It will be even more amazing in the months to come as the riverfront takes shape, as the GE project lifts off, as apartments come on line in the once abandoned buildings on Superior, as 765 gets a new home,
and as more and more people reinvigorate the center of town. Public money has primed the pump while the marketplace, left alone, has failed Fort Wayne over the past fifty years.
And, Doctor Crawford joked that we now will have nearly the same income tax rate as Whitley County in reference to an angry young man who said in the public hearing, his lighter pointing toward his hair, that the tax would force a mass exodus of millenials to the prairies and swamps to our west.
The alternative, as proposed by Mr. Arp, seconded by Mr. Ensley and backed by Messrs. Jehl and Barranda was to return to 1978 when the dominant color in Fort Wayne was gray.