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Windfall use should balance neighborhoods, other needs, mayor says

FORT WAYNE -- Fort Wayne must balance the needs of its neighborhoods with numerous other pressing obligations when considering how to spend its newfound $8.5 million, according to Mayor Tom Henry.

Henry on Wednesday said he will discuss possibilities for the money with Controller Pat Roller early next week, but the City Council has already begun trying to lobby for how to use it. Council President Tom Smith, R-1st, on Tuesday said $1 million should be dedicated to neighborhood projects in each of the six council districts.

Henry called the request a “big ask” and hinted it was unlikely that much would be used for those improvements.

“That’s pretty aggressive,” he said.

While there is value in investing in the neighborhoods, Henry said, there is no lack of need for the money.

“We had a lot of unfunded capital improvement projects we had to delay,” he said.

For example, he said there are infrastructure needs and he specifically noted the need to remove all the city’s dead ash trees. The city has an unfunded plan to remove the trees over a few years, but they would not be replaced immediately.

“We’ve got thousands of trees we have to address,” he said.

Henry also said the city could examine whether some of the money should go toward improving the city’s gateway corridors to ensure visitors get a good first impression of the community.

State officials last week said that a programming error cost local units of government $206 million in local option income tax revenue in 2011 and early 2012, meaning $15.6 million in unexpected revenue will be flowing to governments within Allen County this year. Of that, $8.5 million will go to Fort Wayne. The bulk of that money should be deposited in the city’s account by Friday, according to Allen County Auditor Tera Klutz.

The mayor expects to hear from city employees wanting to use some of the money for pay raises – none were given this year – but he said that would require not only extra money this year but extra money every year going forward. A 1 percent pay raise for all city employees would cost roughly $1 million.

Henry said he would support using most of the newfound money on immediate projects, but said he would consider putting some money back into city savings. The city is projected to use some of its savings to balance its budget this year.