The Journal Gazette
Friday, October 11, 2019 1:00 am

Bottom line: City finances in solid shape

Garry Morr

Growing and thriving cities need to have their respective local governments be good stewards of taxpayer dollars. In Fort Wayne, it's a top priority to be fiscally responsible and meet the needs of the community.

We're experiencing good times in Fort Wayne with job growth, low unemployment, a revitalized downtown, strong and proud neighborhoods, increased assessed values on our homes and businesses, and new and unique quality-of-life amenities. Collectively, all of these things matter to our residents, businesses and the financial experts who monitor how we're performing from a fiscal perspective.

In fact, earlier this year, Moody's Investors Service's credit overview for Fort Wayne reported that we have a high-quality credit position, with an Aa1 rating that is above the median rating of Aa3 for U.S. cities. The key factors listed for our success included a robust financial position, extensive tax base, moderate wealth and income profile, and mid-ranged debt and pension liabilities.

Our financial picture is positive. The city has $2.4 billion in assets and $1.2 billion in liabilities. Mayor Tom Henry and City Council have worked together in a bipartisan manner to keep taxes low and reduce debt. The proposed budget for 2020 calls for a $20 million reduction in debt and a 2% reduction in the city tax rate. That's on top of another nearly $40 million in debt that's been eliminated since 2016. In addition, Fort Wayne is well below the legal debt limit, and we continue to emphasize and implement pay-as-you-go funding instead of borrowing money for projects that are making a meaningful difference in the areas of neighborhood infrastructure, public safety and parks.

We've also been able to raise our cash reserves to the $20 million to $25 million range to enable us to be prepared for any fiscal challenges that aren't anticipated now. Like you do with your home or business finances, the administration and City Council have to be strategic and forward-thinking to help ensure we're meeting our obligations. Without that focus, we wouldn't be seeing the positive energy and investments that are visible in all quadrants of the city.

Our financial health has helped us achieve national recognition from Niche as the lowest cost-of-living city in the country for four years in a row; from WalletHub, which considers Fort Wayne the 12th best-run city in the country in 2019 and the 10th best real estate market in the U.S.; and U.S. News & World Report, which lists us as the 40th-best city in the country to live.

The state of our city's finances is strong. Unlike a lot of communities across the country, we're well positioned for current and future success. We're in an enviable place as we plan to invest a record $33.3 million in neighborhood streets, roads, sidewalks, alleys and bridges in 2020, have recruit classes for public safety (15 police officer positions and 20 firefighters) and continue to maintain and enhance our award-winning parks and recreation system with $3 million in proposed upgrades citywide.

I know money and budgets aren't the most exciting topics to bring up with friends, colleagues and neighbors, but without fiscal discipline and planning, we won't reach our goals and be all that we can be. I encourage you to be engaged in our financial processes.

All of us coming together through open dialogue will advance us as a community that's committed to being the very best.

Garry Morr is controller for the city of Fort Wayne.

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