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City Council members scrutinize park cuts, proposed fee

Thursday, October 4, 2012 - 6:32 am

Some proposals by Fort Wayne parks officials to cope with a tight budget and threats to the city's tree canopy drew opposition Tuesday from City Council members.

Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation's $13 million budget would remain largely unchanged under Mayor Tom Henry's 2013 spending plan. However, the department would make some cuts, and the city still faces millions of dollars in damage caused to trees by the emerald ash borer, parks Director Al Moll told council.

The cuts would include tree trimming worth about $100,000 and several part- and full-time job cuts totaling about $160,000 per year, Moll said.

The department also could save $10,000 a year by prohibiting ice skating on city ponds – a plan that Council President Tom Smith, R-1st, said would be a “major blow” to the park system's image. Councilman John Shoaff, D-at large, also said he opposed the cut.

Smith also voiced strong opposition to a special fee for property taxpayers that would help replace thousands of dead and dying ash trees.

As The News-Sentinel first reported last week, the parks board has discussed levying a fee up to $10 on top of each property owner's annual tax bill – a plan that could generate between $600,000 and $800,000 to help with the ash tree problem.

“When we talk about the parks department's great reputation – this will ding you,” Smith told parks officials Tuesday. “People aren't going to like this.”

Smith said he wants the city to put some of its $75 million “Legacy” fund – created from the lease and sale of the old City Light utility – to remove the city's remaining ash trees and replace them.

Moll said the proposed fee – a one-time assessment that would need to be renewed each year – is being discussed as just one of multiple options to raise money for the work. The city paid $1.2 million to remove 4,500 trees this year, leaving about 2,500. In all, the department will need to replace about 12,000 ash trees, Moll has said.

All the remaining work will cost about $4 million, according to Gary Morr, finance director for the department.