Opinion: An annexation alternative

 

City of Fort Wayne seal

 

An Op-Ed piece written by Mayor Tom Henry for the Journal Gazette and reprinted here with his permission:

There is no question Fort Wayne is experiencing the type of swagger that has not been present here in years. But we are at a critical point in our city’s history. We must decide whether we are truly committed to being a jobs and quality-of-life leader. If so, then it’s vital for our city to continue to grow and prosper.

Healthy cities must grow. Talented people, jobs and businesses gravitate toward cities that provide opportunities for them and ultimately lead to the creation of vibrant hubs of activity. In turn, these hubs serve as magnets for even more growth.

I know my fellow mayors across Indiana also realize that, to be successful communities, all of us must grow and compete as places where residents want to live, work, and play, and businesses want to invest. In a globally competitive economy, we can’t simply stand by and let others dictate what the future holds for us. We, in Fort Wayne, are better than that. We know we have to be proactive, innovative and aggressive if we are going to move our city and the region in the right direction.

In my daily effort to make Fort Wayne an economic leader and a destination place, I’m continually encouraged by all the excitement and momentum we’re experiencing. Whenever I talk with business and community leaders, neighborhood advocates, families and young people, I learn about their hopes and dreams – and it makes me even more committed and driven to lead our city in maximizing the opportunities before us.

Annexation is about retaining and attracting jobs and improving the quality of life our community has to offer. Potential employers look for growth, momentum, excitement and enthusiasm. Annexation embraces the reality of change in the urban fabric of an area, its character and density. In fact, many of the residents in the proposed annexation area already work in our community (65 percent to 70 percent), drive on Fort Wayne streets, are customers of our water and services provided by City Utilities. Families benefit from our world-class parks system, enjoy our zoo, eat at our restaurants and utilize our downtown amenities. It’s interesting that many of them are already proud to use Fort Wayne as their mailing address.

The annexation plan outlined by my administration would provide all of Fort Wayne, current and future residents, with a tremendous chance to enhance our ability to thrive and succeed. The annexation plan isn’t about funding downtown development projects. It’s about sustaining our city – every resident, every quadrant. It’s about helping provide a revenue stream to our neighborhoods of $5 million to $6 million annually to build and maintain our streets, sidewalks, curbs and ramps for those with disabilities. It’s about making sure our district infrastructure needs are met.

Over the past month, we’ve heard from and met with concerned parents and school officials, county taxing units, and property owners. We understand their concerns and are sympathetic to the issues they have brought us. It’s depressing that many of their concerns are based on misinformation, rumors, innuendo and outright fabrications. Sadly, there are groups of individuals using fear and alarm as a means of persuasion.

The facts are there are options available to all involved in the process. Maps can be adjusted, rural area designation can be discussed, Northwest Allen County Schools can consider a referendum for bus services (projected average of $115 per household, per year), City Council can consider offsetting other units’ losses with a local option income tax, and state legislators can be contacted to adjust funding formulas. The doom-and-gloom scenarios some are projecting are not only erroneous but dangerous. For instance, bus elimination will not and cannot happen this coming school year. State law requires a three-year notification for any type of bus elimination. Additionally, taxes will not be going up for everyone. One-fourth of new residents will not see any increase at all and one-half will see an increase of 15 percent or less. Finally, no taxes will be asked for until May 2018.

The bottom line is that all cities, counties, school systems and libraries are facing financial challenges in the current tax-cap era. It shouldn’t be that way, but it is. Attempting to destroy one another when there are other opportunities available is just plain wrong. The City of Fort Wayne is, in fact, committed to collaborating to encourage our legislative delegation to take action at the General Assembly to provide our schools and local government units with more flexible revenue-generating options. The true long-term solutions lie with them, not with cities that are trying to grow and survive.

While all of us wait for our legislature to take appropriate action, I want to reiterate my administration will continue to work with City Council in reviewing the relevant ordinances and determining where reasonable exceptions can be made for properties that are rural in nature. Additionally, discussions will continue on possible map modifications to decrease the proposed affected areas. We will also continue our request of the superintendent of Northwest Allen County Schools to consider discussing a referendum for transportation to provide a long-term solution to busing needs. Again, since state law requires a three-year notification for eliminating transportation, there is still plenty of time for conversations with all involved in the initiative.

By investing in our future, we become a stronger city, a stronger region and a place where people will want to live and invest. Together, we have already become a best-run city, a top home for young professionals and a leading location for families to be a part of tremendous neighborhoods.

It’s a fact, a number of cities that have not grown in the past have essentially died. We have come too far as a city to let that happen to us. Now is the time to show leadership and a clear direction for Fort Wayne’s future. Together, our vision for what Fort Wayne and the region can become is one that can position us with unparalleled success and opportunity.

 

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