The Fort Wayne City Council approved spending $3 million Tuesday in supplemental income tax funds on quality-of-life improvements for neighborhoods.
The supplemental funding was approved in votes on two separate bills after the council in August removed $1.25 million originally earmarked for programs with which some council members disagreed.
The additional spending was requested by Mayor Tom Henry on the heels of a one-time $3.86 million disbursement in income tax funds from the state. The council approved spending $2 million of those funds on neighborhood improvements, which means each of the city’s four area quadrants will have $500,000 earmarked for a variety of projects through a program called Investing in Neighborhoods Now.
The added $1 million bump for neighborhood spending was approved unanimously. Council voted separately to approve $2 million in funding for other projects – including an additional $1 million neighborhood investment – that were contained in the original $3.25 million proposal.
About $500,000 will go toward fighting the area’s opioid epidemic, with $300,000 earmarked for the Fort Wayne Police Department to assist in buying new drug testing equipment. The remaining $200,000 will be given to The Lutheran Foundation for Allen County’s Sober Living Pilot, which will provide new beds for patients in the criminal justice system who are suffering from substance abuse disorders. An additional $500,000 will go to Easterseals Arc of Northeast Indiana, an organization that assists people with intellectual and developmental disabilities with vocational and other job skills training.
Those funds were approved in an 8-1 vote. Councilman Jason Arp, R-4th, was the sole dissenter.
Tuesday’s approval came after a two-month delay during which City Council members sought to expand funding for neighborhood projects and reduce the amount of money spent on two programs included in an earlier draft of the proposal.
City officials had originally sought to infuse the Office of Housing and Neighborhood Services’ Homeowner Repair Program with $1 million for use in a zero-interest loan program that helps residents replace damaged roofing or repair home heating and cooling systems. An additional $250,000 would have gone to the city’s commercial facade grant program.
City Council voted to remove those elements from the proposal in August. Henry’s administration reintroduced a lower level of funding – $250,000 – for the Homeowner Repair Program but was again rebuffed by the council in a 5-4 vote Tuesday.
Cindy Joyner, the city’s director of Community Development, said there are many Fort Wayne households that are struggling to perform necessary repairs on their homes.
The Homeowner Repair Program, which is typically funded through Community Development block grant funds, helped about 35 families make those repairs this year but had more than 500 applicants, she said.
“This is where my heart is. … Just seeing people who are actually out there working two or three jobs,” she said.
Councilman John Crawford, R-at large, who proposed the cut from the original proposal, said his position on the program hasn’t changed in the past two months.
“I’ve never quite understood why we have to tell some people in Pine Valley that we can’t fix their street because we don’t have any money when they expect their taxes to go to fix their street,” he said.
Councilman Michael Barranda, R-at large, was one of the four opposed to removing the $250,000 for home repairs. The council doesn’t always get everything it wants but did get most of what it asked for, he said.
“This is, to my knowledge, the only piece of legislation regarding the budget that we’ve had an opportunity to give the mayor an input on the budget. He listened to us, he put in $1 million for neighborhoods and the trade-off was he got his roof repair program,” Barranda said. “It’s not what I asked for, it’s not what a lot of us asked for, but we did ask for the neighborhoods.”
The $250,000 cut will go to the city’s unallocated general fund along with the remaining $610,000 left over from the state’s disbursement.