The City Councils conservative bloc was in a surprisingly spendthrift mood Tuesday, salivating at the prospect of an unexpected $8.5 million filling city coffers and at no loss for ideas on how to spend the money – now.
Spend $6 million on streets, said Council President Tom Smith, with $1 million going to each council district. Use some of the money to replace ash trees, said Councilman John Shoaff. Look at bigger projects, said Councilman Tom Didier.
This public airing of wish lists, though, was decidedly political strategy, with some council Republicans seeking to:
Try to shape where the money will go rather than follow the normal procedure of the mayor proposing specific spending and the council voting on the proposals.
Reinstate, at least for one time, the pork-barrel practice of spreading local income tax money around, spending a certain amount in each council district.
These initiatives to boost incumbent council members popularity among voters came even before the money reached the citys bank account. Because of an accounting error revealed last week, the state had shortchanged local governments a total of $206 million; the citys share is $8.5 million.
Fortunately, cooler heads will probably prevail as City Controller Pat Roller and other city officials weigh the citys needs and the unexpected money.
One of the first matters officials need to address is where the city stands on spending this years budget. The 2012 budget includes $3 million more in spending than revenues. Henry administration officials said last fall they might be able to achieve that much in savings over the year and, if not, would spend $3 million in cash reserves.
That budget drew criticism from Councilman Mitch Harper for having a structural deficit. But instead of shoring up cash reserves – which should be among the serious options – Harper backed Smiths proposal to spend it on streets.
Several council members liked the idea of spending money on streets and spreading it around the city. But where did $1 million per district come from, other than being a nice round number? Is that the best use of the money? Is it fair to believe that the needs in each district are exactly the same? Isnt it possible that the southeast 6th District has greater needs than the northeast 2nd District?
Few Hoosier cities are as fortunate as Fort Wayne. With $20 million in cash reserves, $75 million coming from the I&M Legacy payments and now $8.5 million more, the city has many options. But the citys fortunes were not just luck; they were a result of deliberative planning, strategy, cutting costs and saving. Officials – and council members – should use similar planning and careful consideration to make sure the money goes to its best use.
And surely, at least some of it should be saved.