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City's $600,000 bid to improve air service expected to pass this time

Compromise will protect and conserve 'Legacy' account, officials say

Tuesday, March 11, 2014 - 12:01 am

Less than a month after it was withdrawn for lack of support, a $600,000 plan to improve local air service will be back on City Council's table Tuesday.

And this time – in a significantly revised form – passage is expected, according to Deputy Mayor Karl Bandemer.

In February, the administration of Mayor Tom Henry requested up to $600,000 from the city's “Legacy” fund as part of a $2 million package designed to attract an airline willing to provide service between Fort Wayne International Airport and a major East Coast hub, possibly Philadelphia. The airport has already received a $600,000 federal grant for the project, and support has also been sought from Allen County, state and regional economic development groups and others. The money would essentially guarantee the airline a certain level of income over two years.

When the necessary six Council members balked at using money from the sale of the old City Light utility – the Legacy fund is earmarked for “transformational” projects – the proposal was withdrawn. Since then, however, administration officials and Council members have discussed a possible compromise, and may have found one.

Instead of using all Legacy money, Bandemer said, the new proposal would tap Legacy for $300,000, with the other half coming from the city's share of County Economic Development Income Taxes (CEDIT). That and other changes are expected to be enough to assure the necessary six votes, Bandemer said. A supermajority of the nine-member Council is required to spend Legacy funds.

Bandemer said guidelines will also be developed to determine whether similar requests for funding through the $71 million Legacy account will be approved in the future. “We know there will be others,” he said.

Tom Smith, R-1st, who opposed the original request, said he can support the compromise because it minimizes the use of Legacy funds and would establish criteria for future requests not anticipated when Legacy rules were first established.

Although Smith said he still does not want Legacy used to provide operating income, as this proposal would, he is willing to support it because adequate air service is so important to Fort Wayne's economy.

“This is a learning process,” he said.

County Commissioner Nelson Peters has indicated he is willing to support the project as well, though at far lower level than the city's likely pledge.