Most of the time, our Republican-dominated City Council and the Democratic administration of Mayor Tom Henry seem to work together to allocate public resources properly. A lot of downtown projects are reaching fruition and, appropriately, more attention is turning to neighborhood needs. But when there is money to give out in an election season, anything could happen.
Last month, a solid administration proposal for distributing some $3.26 million in unexpected tax revenue was partially derailed when council members complained they hadn't been consulted. The council said no to a portion of the administration's plan that would reserve $1 million to encourage struggling homeowners to make repairs through zero-interest loans, it rejected $250,000 for commercial facade grants. Consequently, a $1 million allocation for neighborhoods was put on hold.
The city's four area partnerships of neighborhood leaders had already begun to consider uses for the $250,000 windfall each quadrant would have received under Henry's plan. Putting that money into limbo for a long squabble between the mayor and the council would have been deflating and disappointing.
This week, though, the council has offered Henry another way to distribute the funds that is in some ways even better than his original proposal. A resolution proposed by Councilman Michael Barranda, R-at large, would double the allocation to the area partnerships for neighborhood improvements, to $2 million. Each quadrant would receive $500,000 to allocate for sidewalk linkage, improved signage, beautification or other projects. The proposal would preserve two other worthy components of the mayor's original distribution plan: half a million dollars for the opioid fight and another half-million for the job-training programs run by Easterseals Arc of Northeast Indiana.
Barranda's plan even leaves room for a little of the kind of collaboration he said he wanted to see take place before. The mayor and the council can craft a mutually face-saving plan for what to do with the other $250,000 marked for distribution.
Giving the area partnership more funds to distribute makes sense. It should be noted, though, that the mayor's zero-interest-repairs fund plan was also a neighborhood-oriented proposal with its own merits. Perhaps the area partnerships, with the city's help, will want to direct some of those funds into loans to encourage home improvements.
For the council, finding common ground with the mayor on a way to distribute this year's extra revenue will be good practice for discussing the administration's proposed 2020 budget, which also has a major neighborhood-improvements component.