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Harper, Jehl to present budget 'framework of ideas'

City Councilmen Mitch Harper, R-4th, and Russ Jehl, R-2nd, will present a plan at tonight’s council meeting to fill the city’s budget gap and increase badly needed spending on streets, parks and public safety.

The two presented their “framework of ideas” Tuesday morning, but did not give many specifics, saying their main point was to show the budget can be balanced without resorting to the Henry administration’s proposal to raise income taxes.

“The administration is proposing one of the largest increases in Fort Wayne’s history,” Jehl said of the proposal to raise income taxes in Allen County from 1.percent to 1.5.percent.

City officials say that would increase city revenues by about $11 million, enabling them to hire 20 new police officers and 15 new firefighters, fix streets and maintain parks. They say they are currently short 21 police officers and 30 firefighters.

“This will hurt hard-working families, and second, it’s simply not needed,” Jehl said.

Harper said there are revenues available the city is not taking into account, including the “banked” property tax levy Harper and Jehl both voted against using in October.

The state allows the city to raise its property taxes a certain amount each year; each of the last two years the city council has held the levy flat. Raising it to the maximum last year would have generated about $4.5 million.

Now, both say raising the city’s property tax to the maximum allowed is preferable to an income-tax hike.

The administration is also proposing a new property tax, called the cumulative capital development fund, that would bring in about $1.1 million. Jehl said he backs using that before raising income taxes; Harper said he hasn’t decided.

Both said the discussion needs to include how much City Utilities puts into the city’s general fund in lieu of property taxes, increases in state funding, retiring debt obligations and increasing property values before income taxes are raised.

“Solutions that spend less hard-earned tax dollars than we take in while funding our priorities should be the best answer,” Harper said.