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Council OKs $1 million for neighborhood infrastructure

Fort Wayne City Council members revived an idea for spending additional Legacy Fund money Tuesday night, dedicating $1 million toward neighborhood infrastructure projects.

Council members acknowledged the money – which is to be used for badly-bneeded projects such as streets and sidewalk repairs – is a pittance, but approved the proposal unanimously.

"I just know the need is great and doing something is better than doing nothing," said Russ Jehl, R-2nd, who, along with Mitch Harper, R-4th, and John Crawford, R-at large, proposed the measure.

The idea was first proposed in December, a week after the council approved spending $17 million on Legacy projects. It called for spending $2.1 million on neighborhoods – the entire payment the fund is expected to receive this year – but the council held the measure indefinitely. The Legacy Fund is money from the lease and sale of the city's old electric utility, City Power & Light. There is about $47 million on hand; an additional $28 million will come in over the next 12 years. The fund is meant to pay for "transformative" projects that improve the quality of life in Fort Wayne.

Jehl said the measure was taken up Tuesday after the city administration agreed to move up spending on infrastructure in return for lowering the amount coming from Legacy from $2.1 million to $1 million. Because of state cuts in state funding due to lower gas tax collections, city officials estimate they are behind about $70 million on street projects.

Council members concede the money won't go far: The recent Lake Avenue "lane diet" project, which reconfigured lanes, improved two traffic signals and repaired areas of concrete, cost $889,572.

"It's a pittance, but it's a step in the right direction," said Glynn Hines, D-6th.

Council members also spent nearly an hour discussing changes to the ordinance overseeing the city's internal audit process only to hold the measure until March 26.

During budget discussions last fall, Marty Bender, R-at large, proposed cutting the entire $273,000 budget of the city's Internal Audit Department, saying it causes ill will among departments being audited. That idea was pared back to only funding the department for the first quarter of the year and requiring officials to examine their processes and justify the department's existence.

Tuesday, the department presented its proposal for updating its processes to streamline them, and make them more user-friendly but Bender blasted them.

"Their inquisitions – I mean audits – end up being a waste of time. It's make-work, basically," said Bender, who is a deputy chief in the city police department. "You spend hours and hours explaining what we do, and they don't understand so you have to explain it again. So you don't get your own work done. You have to spend a lot of time defending your staff, and they still don't get it and they get everything wrong. Then they say you're rude and tell your supervisors you're not cooperating with them."