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Council OKs money for scholarships, job traianing

Fort Wayne City Council members on Tuesday approved spending $1.2 million on efforts to have a better trained workforce and stop the brain drain.

The council voted unanimously to approve using money from the Legacy Fund to pay for the Higher Education Scholarship Fund and the Educational Services Fund. The Legacy Fund is millions of dollars from the lease and sale of the city's old electric utility set aside for transformative projects.

The scholarship fund will pay for loans up to $5,000 a year for Fort Wayne students to attend college. Up to half the loan amount can be forgiven if the student lives in Allen County for a certain number of years after college. The program will be run by the Questa Foundation, which already has similar programs. Officials said the Questa Foundation will seek matching funds for the programs, and only money that is matched dollar-for-dollar will be spent.

The Educational Services Fund will help pay for job training, vocational, certification and other non-degree programs that enable people to get better, higher-paying jobs.

Approving the spending, however, was no easy matter.

The measures were first discussed a week ago, but were held because the city administration wanted to change them, based on discussions with council members before the meeting even took place. The original proposal called for endowments of $3 million and $2 million for the scholarship and services funds, respectively, and the programs would be paid for from the investment earnings.

That was changed to paying $200,000 a year for the scholarship fund and $100,000 a year for the educational services fund for four years, with an annual review to decide whether to add another year to the program.

Mitch Harper, R-4th, wanted descriptions of the programs added to the resolution because the text didn't really say what the programs did. John Crawford, R-at large, wanted the question divided so members could vote on the two programs separately because he liked the scholarship fund but had concerns about the other. Amendments to the resolution later assuaged his concerns and he voted in favor of both.

John Shoaff, D-at large, wanted the educational services proposal changed to be funded for only one year at a time so the council could approve it year-by-year. That idea was approved unanimously, but other Shoaff amendments to reduce the amount of the scholarship fund and to insert language to allow amending the program later both failed.

Council members also gave final approval to a proposal to a $499,500 study of the downtown riverfront for development possibilities. There have been numerous studies of downtown over the years and numerous recommendations that the city should use its rivers to its advantage, but no study has ever looked at how to use them, whether they can be used, how they can be used and what their use might mean for development.