By its very nature, City Council is a political body, but an election year shifts the politics into high gear. That’s unfortunate for neighborhood groups and others hoping to see a $3.25 million windfall put to quick use. What’s most unfortunate is the delay could have been avoided with better communication between the Democratic administration and the Republican-controlled council.
The political posturing was on full view last week when council postponed a vote on Mayor Tom Henry’s proposal to spend an unexpected May distribution of local income tax revenue. The mayor announced his plan on July 11:
• $1 million for Investing in Neighborhoods Now. Each of the city’s four area partnerships would receive $250,000 for neighborhood improvements.
• $1 million for the Homeowner Repair Program. Through the Office of Housing and Neighborhood Services, the city would establish a zero-interest homeowner repair revolving loan fund to address the need for furnace, roof and foundation improvements for low-income families.
• $500,000 to fight the opioid epidemic. The administration proposed spending $300,000 on drug-testing equipment for the Fort Wayne Police Department and $200,000 for the Sober Living Pilot, sponsored by The Lutheran Foundation, which provides 71 new beds for patients battling substance abuse disorders.
• $500,000 for a partnership withEasterseals Arc of Northeast Indiana. The city funds would support vocational and job-skill training.
• $250,000 for the city’s Commercial Facade Grant program. By the end of this year, the decade-long program will have assisted 100 small businesses.
Dozens of proponents packed the council room last week to urge support for favored programs within the mayor’s proposal, but the Republican council members expressed more outrage over being left out of discussions than enthusiasm for its well-intended applications.
Councilman Michael Barranda, R-at large, noted that council has fiscal oversight for the city. He questioned Deputy Controller Valerie Ahr over announcement of the unanticipated revenue and any contact the mayor had with the council president about it, clearly aware there had been none.
“The mayor never even relied on speaking with the council in regards to any of these projects ... he just chose these,” said Councilman Tom Didier, R-District 3.
That was a mistake on Henry’s part, giving the council majority a clear example of the lack of communication from the mayor’s office. But Ahr correctly pointed out the city’s SmartGov website showed the spike in revenue from the May 31 state transfer of local income tax funds. If council members are minding the city’s finances, how did they miss a $3 million-plus deposit in the city’s accounts? How did they miss the mayor’s July 11 announcement of proposed projects?
John Perlich, director of public information for the city, said each council member was invited to the July 11 news conference. Only Didier and Councilman Geoff Paddock, D-District 5, attended.
“Leading up to the discussion at council on Tuesday, we offered briefings to all nine members,” Perlich said in an email. “We met with seven members in person. We had a phone conference with Councilman Didier. Councilman Barranda did not meet with us.”
Both sides are eager to curry favor with voters in distributing the windfall, but the fact remains that the mayor’s proposal is a solid one that promises to address some serious challenges. Council should be prepared to vote on Oct. 8, when the postponed measure will be considered. Voters have come to expect partisanship creating deadlock and poor policy at the federal level of government. They deserve better at the local level.