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The Journal Gazette

September 23, 2016 1:03 AM

City budget includes 28 new officers

$24 million on street, sidewalk work

Dave Gong | The Journal Gazette

Fort Wayne city officials Thursday rolled out their proposed 2017 budget, which they say will allow for the hiring of new police officers and further investment into city streets and roads.

“The positive momentum continues here in our city. There is unprecedented excitement and investment in the city of Fort Wayne,” Mayor Tom Henry said. “This administration has always tried to exhibit leadership and commitment to being fiscally responsible. My friends, Fort Wayne is moving in the right direction.”

Henry said the proposed budget is balanced and will allow for the hiring of 28 new police officers to bring the total number of officers to more than 460 citywide. Public safety is a major component in the city’s budget at 69 percent of the overall budget, City Controller Len Poehler said.

“We’ve actually never been at our fully staffed level of 460 (officers). This actually takes us just over that number to account for known retirements so they can fully staff the police department, especially in the operations division to give our quadrant commanders enough resources to proactively serve the citizens,” Police Chief Steve Reed said.

The city also plans to invest about $23.8 million into neighborhood street, road and sidewalk infrastructure, Henry said, as well as a $7.7 million investment into maintenance projects for city parks.

“Public safety, infrastructure, neighborhoods and our park system; these are areas that our citizens have consistently asked us to invest in, that our city council members have shared with us areas of concern that they have heard about,” Henry said.

“So my administration and I, with division directors and department directors standing behind me, were made aware of this and our budget reflects a commitment to those areas.”

The parks department makes up 11 percent of the budget, while public works and community development represent 7 percent and 3 percent, respectively. Personnel, Poehler said, traditionally makes up the majority of the city’s annual budget. The 2017 spending plan will be no different, with personnel representing 75 percent of the city’s total budget.

The city is again asking for the maximum tax levy allowed by state law, Poehler said. He estimated that the owner of a home assessed for tax purposes at about $100,000 would pay $7 to $8 more a year, provided the property has not yet reached the tax cap.

Although city officials say the budget is balanced, Fort Wayne’s finances are not without challenges, Poehler said.

The state’s property tax caps, which were written into the state constitution, limit homeowners’ property taxes to 1 percent of their home’s total assessed value. Poehler said cumulative revenue losses amount to about $107 million. Nearly 44 percent of all Fort Wayne taxpayers have reached the cap, he said.

Moving forward, the Fort Wayne City Council must review and pass the proposed budget by the end of October. The city will formally present the budget, after which several city departments will be called to the table to discuss their finances. After the presentations are complete, council members will have the opportunity to propose cuts.

“Anything that goes up will be looked at carefully, any new positions will be looked at, and any raises that are out of line with anybody that’s at the average,” Councilman John Crawford, R- at large, said. “Certain council members may look at freezing things. We can cut anything.”

Any proposed cuts must garner at least five votes at council before they are approved.

“You have to make a good case for cuts, because (the departments) know they have to make it pretty lean or there will be a lot of cuts,” Crawford said. “So as a general rule, the division heads already are under pressure form the administration to keep it pretty flat.”

The city will introduce its 2017 budget at the City Council’s meeting Tuesday. Under state law, the budget must pass by Oct. 31.

dgong@jg.net