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City considering its budgetary options

Make Fort Wayne even stronger …

Great things are happening in our community. We’re seeing job and business growth, our quality of life is unrivaled, and we’re a city that’s committed to engagement, innovation and performance. In addition, a recent survey conducted by the Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics shows 68 percent of residents believe Fort Wayne is headed in the right direction.

But we’re also facing serious challenges. Property tax caps implemented by the state Legislature are making it more difficult for us to meet demands and expectations. Since 2009, the result has been a loss of $53 million in revenue to the city.

However, through strong fiscal management, leadership and bipartisan efforts, we’ve been able to weather the storm. But due to continued constraints on our budget because of tax caps, we’ve had to use a portion of our savings account to fund essential services. Developing the budget for 2014 and beyond will undoubtedly be challenging.

That’s why, last year, I created the Fiscal Policy Group. Fort Wayne is the first city in Indiana to assemble a team of state and local leaders to develop strategies to combat looming budget issues. The group was tasked with gaining an understanding of fiscal conditions and identifying financial options that can help us continue to provide services you have come to expect and deserve.

The group has completed its work and developed a framework of ideas to save the community money and bring additional revenue to the city.

The framework that’s been presented offers a meaningful alternative to addressing the fiscal issues that must be dealt with now and in the future.

It’s anticipated final decisions will be made in the next few months following presentations to City Council by my administration; public meetings; and deliberations by City Council.

The Fiscal Policy Group’s framework of ideas encompasses:

•Maintaining city services you have come to expect would not be eliminated.

•Adding an academy class for 20 new police officers and 15 new firefighters.

•Creating a fund for annual capital improvements for public works and parks (including streets and roads).

•Using a portion of Legacy funds – $1 million a year for five years – for neighborhood street and road improvements.

•Revising the benefits package that city employees receive to better align with benefits offered in the private sector.

•Moving fire protection fees from the property tax bill to the City Utilities bill.

•Adopting local option income taxes, which would increase public safety workforce and provide additional property tax relief.

•Reducing operating expenses by $5 million.

•Exploring annexations.

We know that difficult decisions have to be made. All of our collective efforts, from mine to those of city employees to businesses leaders to residents, are going to be critical to the future success of Fort Wayne. I’m confident we’ll meet these challenges – and the result will be a stronger, more united city.

Tom Henry is mayor of Fort Wayne. He wrote this for The Journal Gazette.