Three City Council Republicans today urged Mayor Tom Henry to pour all of the city’s cash into freezing property taxes, balancing the budget and catching up on a backlog of street work.
Councilmen John Crawford, R-at large; Mitch Harper, R-4th; and Russ Jehl, R-2nd, were expected to call on Henry in a news conference to avoid spending any of the city’s $75 million “Legacy” fund on special projects and instead put it toward overdue construction work.
Under the three Republicans’ plan, the city would use money from its cash reserves – including a roughly $15 million general fund and $3 million “rainy day” fund – to plug a projected annual budget gap between $3 million and $6 million while keeping property taxes flat.
“It is most important in these times, when people face an uncertain economic recovery, that local government spending be careful, measured and limited,” Harper said in a joint statement.
Three special committees appointed by Henry have recommended that the $75 million Legacy fund – created from the lease and sale of the old City Light utility – go toward a broad range of programs focused on downtown, economic development and youth.
However, the mayor has not yet presented his final plan for the money, which would likely require council’s endorsement.
Henry’s spokesman, John Perlich, did not immediately return an e-mail seeking comment this morning.
Crawford said that he, along with Harper and Jehl, plans on taking a hard line against discretionary spending with the Legacy fund – possibly setting up a showdown with Henry on how best to use the money. In his 2011 campaign, Crawford floated a similar idea about using the $75 million fund to hold property taxes flat.
Harper recently announced he would run for mayor in 2015, and Jehl has taken a hard line on fiscal matters since taking office in January. The three other council Republicans – Marty Bender, Tom Didier and Tom Smith – were not mentioned as co-sponsors of the plan.
Jehl said the plan is largely meant to head off Henry’s administration before it presents what some council members see as a false choice between a budget deficit and tax increases.
“Taxpayers of Fort Wayne already pay enough and cannot afford to pay more,” Jehl said in the statement. “Taxpayers have made their sacrifices, they expect the public sector to do the same.”
A group of fiscal policy experts, including John Stafford of the Community Research Institute at IPFW, has predicted that tax shortfalls will produce a $3-6 million budget deficit for the city starting in 2014.
To fill the deficit and start catching up with a $65 million backlog of unfunded street work, the city likely will need to cut spending, add a new tax or borrow money, the group found.