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A cautious Legacy

Panel for reviewing projects adds layer of care

Transformational change. It’s a phrase with inspiring connotations that Mayor Tom Henry and other leaders have used to describe what Fort Wayne’s Legacy Fund should be dedicated to. The phrase, though, means different things to different leaders.

Last winter, the City Council balked when it was asked to use the fund to help attract East Coast air routes to Fort Wayne. The council finally agreed to dedicate $300,000 from Legacy to create a minimum revenue guarantee to entice air carriers after the city arranged to match that with $300,000 in county economic development income tax revenue.

But is air service “transformational”? Was it “transformational” to give the University of Saint Francis $3 million to help renovate buildings for its downtown campus? And then there was the battle last week over a contract that would include about $168,000 in Legacy money – mixed with other public money – to pay for directional signs to Fort Wayne landmarks.

The only thing that was clearly transformational about that exchange was that, because those funds had already been transferred to a city trust, the spending had to be approved by only a 5-4 vote, even though Legacy decisions customarily require a “supermajority” of six votes to pass. The move was just a little too tricky for some of the council members.

That dust-up resulted in Henry’s subsequent proposal for a seven-member panel to review requests for money from the fund, which is at $75 million and growing. If approved by the council, the committee will comprise three members of the city administration, two council members and two private citizens, one appointed by the mayor and one appointed by the council.

A resolution to be introduced to the council Tuesday also will allow private and nonprofit groups to apply for Legacy funding.

Everyone agrees that the Legacy Fund – money derived from the lease and sale of the city-owned electric utility – is a special source of money that has to be used wisely.

However, much study, public participation and advisory committee work has been done since the Legacy Task Force began meeting in January 2011. Priorities have been set. Legacy Champion Teams were formed and recommendations made. The youth sports study was completed, and the river study is well underway. Significant standing must be given to the work already done by by the Legacy citizen volunteers.

If Henry’s panel promotes better decision-making for the fund and helps smooth the distribution process, that will be a great outcome. If it is political posturing that adds another layer of bureaucracy and delay, the community will not be well served.