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City Council urged not to use $75 million 'Legacy' fund for tax relief

Wednesday, October 10, 2012 - 12:01 am

A parade of local business leaders on Tuesday urged Republican City Council members against using some of a $75 million nest egg to balance next year’s city budget without raising taxes.

Repeating one another almost verbatim, about half a dozen officials with the Greater Fort Wayne Chamber of Commerce, the Fort Wayne-Allen County Economic Development Alliance and other agencies approached council to speak against putting any of the “Legacy” fund – created from the lease and sale of the old City Light utility – toward property tax relief.

“We’d like to see those funds used for things that really attract long-term residents and visitors to our city,” said Visit Fort Wayne board member Gary Shearer. “To use that capital for filling budget holes would be to squander that money.”

Tuesday was the public hearing on Mayor Tom Henry’s proposed 2013 budget, which would raise taxes on most property owners by about 6 percent to fill a $6 million gap in the spending plan.

At least three council Republicans have suggested that the city might use some of the Legacy fund to avoid the tax increase. The only other options would be to cut several million dollars from the budget or tap the city’s dwindling savings.

Each of the speakers who approached the council table Tuesday argued that the Legacy money ought to go toward what they called “transformative” projects that would make Fort Wayne more attractive, boost property values and bring higher-paying jobs.

While none of the speakers gave specific ideas for the money, most pointed toward Parkview Field – the city’s $30 million tax-funded baseball stadium – as a good example.

“I do think the Legacy money is extremely important because it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Mick McCollum, interim president of the Alliance.

One thing none of the speakers offered: Advice on how to balance the budget. And only one acknowledged that the proposed tax increase would likely hit lower-income people hardest, as many of the city’s wealthier homeowners have already hit the 1 percent property tax cap in the state constitution.

“It’s not that we want to spend Legacy money,” said Councilman John Crawford, R-at large, a leading opponent of the tax increase. “It’s do you want to spend Legacy money or do you want to raise taxes.”

Chamber board Chairman Michael Christman – also CEO of Fort Wayne Newspapers and publisher of The News-Sentinel – acknowledged council was in a difficult position.

“The Chamber would not like to see taxes raised,” he said. “Obviously, you guys have issues you need to decide on.”