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COMMUNITY VOICE

Let's build a real legacy of fiscal responsibility for our city's future

Friday, September 28, 2012 - 12:01 am

Say, do you remember

Dancing in September

Never was a cloudy day

Golden dreams were shiny days – “September” by Earth, Wind and Fire

“September” might be the sad song Fort Wayne will be humming soon. Will we remember the September before our city government was on the precipice, before it came to the fork in the road? Will we remember when it still had the chance to change course? Will we remember what we did about it -– or did not do?

With apologies to Earth, Wind and Fire, the Grammy-winning Chicago band, there was prescience in those dreamy 1978 lyrics. For there would come a September three decades later when Fort Wayne would miss cloudless, shiny, golden days.

Because this month our city government must make a choice, must draw that line in the sand and say: “No more; we’re going down the wrong path; we’re not better off than we were four years ago.”

If that line can be drawn, we can be better off in four years. We can look back and remember that we made the right choices this September.

But first we will need to remember that . . .

Last year the city of Fort Wayne called for a property tax increase, that the city‘s cash reserve at the time was about $15 million, a little less than 10 percent of the annual budget.

This year it is asking for a property-tax increase again.

The 2012 budget was passed with $3 million more in expenditures than the city expected to receive in revenues, thereby avoiding that property tax increase but requiring the city to dip into its cash reserve.

The 2013 city budget also asks for a tax increase. And if the City Council passes that budget without an increase or without spending cuts, then the city again must draw from cash reserves, perhaps this time to a level below which bond insurers will find acceptable.

The once magical Light Lease Fund was renamed the Legacy Fund to symbolize the concrete legacy we would leave future generations by funding economic development projects, youth sports and the Downtown-Riverfront.

The council nonetheless considered throwing away this legacy in order to cover past spending excess, to plug a politically embarrassing budget hole.

And finally, we will want to remember that our council was looking at increasing the tax burden at the same time Fort Wayne Community Schools was asking for a property tax increase and that city residents were facing years of sewer-rate increases in order to comply with an order from the federal Environmental Protection Agency (the Combined Sewer Overflow decree).

All of this reminds the observer less of the historically responsible “Fort Wayne Way” of three decades ago and more of the “Chicago Way” of today.

In Chicago, the mayor received over $1 billion from the lease of its parking facilities and meters only to spend it filling the budget holes there, leaving his successor in debt. It hits close to home, doesn’t it?

And if that doesn’t make you want to give the budget to a fiscal conservative with a red pencil, consider the national news: Household income is down 8.2 percent since this president took office while state and local government pay is up; health insurance premiums are up $3,065, not down $2,500 as promised four years ago; and Medicare Advantage enrollees face a $515 benefit cut this next year.

Add it all up at your kitchen table. There’s no legacy anywhere there, not unless our elected representatives get a hold on expenditures.How will they do that? Our children are showing us the way, teaching us to sing a new tune. A recent Wall Street Journal article noted that savings is increasing atypically among members of the coming generation. They have seen the light, realizing that they must live within their means.

So can our city. We all know it is necessary, Republicans and Democrats. Our children’s means and our means are being squeezed by short-sighted, self-serving political decisions in the White House and at City Hall.

In Fort Wayne at least, let’s build a real legacy. Let’s cut spending and start saving. Let’s lighten the burden on already overworked taxpayers trying to stay within their means.

Then we can look back and remember that we saved our hard-earned Legacy Fund, that we invested in responsible, prudent government and not merely in somebody’s political career.

What a great way to remember September.

Elizabeth M. Brown, J.D., is an adjunct scholar of the Indiana Policy Review Foundation. She served four years on the Fort Wayne City Council in an at-large seat and was a candidate for mayor in the GOP primary.