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Fort Wayne council eyes 'Legacy' money for street work

Wednesday, January 9, 2013 - 12:01 am

A Fort Wayne City Council proposal could double the amount of street work the city does over the next year by tapping into the "Legacy" fund created with payments from Indiana Michigan Power.

Sponsored by councilmen Russ Jehl, R-2nd, John Crawford, R-at large, and Mitch Harper, R-4th, the proposal calls for the city to use one of the annual payments, totaling a little more than $2 million, to supplement neighborhood street projects.

"Our neighborhoods are our legacy, and they are definitely in need of attention," Jehl said Tuesday. "I just think it would be a worthwhile endeavor and way to support our neighborhoods with the light lease funds."

The Legacy fund -- created from the lease and sale of the old City Light utility to I&M -- contains about $47 million, with another $28 million to be paid in annual installments over the next 15 years.

The proposal under consideration by council would use one of those payments as a one-time cash infusion for the city's public works department, which is facing a $65 million backlog of unfunded street work and falling further behind each year.

Council voted Tuesday to table the proposal until later in the year, when more details of the city's fiscal situation become known. This year is expected to be crucial for the city's fiscal outlook, as declining tax revenue and cash reserves could make 2014 a uniquely tight budget year.

Crawford pointed out that council will likely be considering an assortment of new taxes, budget cuts and other measures this year to help close the financial gap. A fiscal policy group formed by Mayor Tom Henry is expected to appear before council this spring to outline a package of options.

Still, council members of both parties appeared open to the proposal.

"I would support it because, as you said, the need is there," Councilman Glynn Hines, D-6th, told Jehl. "We keep falling behind if we don't do, particularly, infrastructure needs."

The proposal could roughly double the amount of infrastructure work the city did this year. The city funded about $2 million in street projects.

Any expenditure of Legacy funds requires the approval of six council members and the mayor. The proposal can be brought back to the council table at any time at the request of at least five members.