Residents Speak Out on Proposed City Budget

By Rachel Martin

October 9, 2012 Updated Oct 18, 2013 at 2:02 AM EDT

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (Indiana’s NewsCenter) – Fort Wayne residents speak out at a City Council meeting concerning the future of the Legacy Fund and how it could possibly be used to balance the 2013 city budget.

Ever since it was announced the proposed Fort Wayne city budget will raise property taxes for residents, it's caused a bit of stir. City Council members say they might have a way to ease the tax burden, but that's stirred up even more of an issue. The issue now is not whether the city should raise property taxes, but rather if they should use money from the Legacy Fund to keep taxes low.

City Council members say the proposed budget will increase taxes—it’s just a matter of by how much. Council President Tom Smith says the city must reinstate a tax levy, the amount of property taxes collected, from the 2012 budget, which is 2.8 percent. Council also has the option of reinstating the levy from the 2011 budget, making the city eligible to collect approximately 5.7 percent in property taxes.

According to a real estate association representative that spoke at Tuesday’s public hearing, 39 percent of home owners in Fort Wayne have reached the property tax cap, meaning the tax increase will not affect them. That leaves 61 percent of home owners, whom of which the representative says are on the lower end of the spectrum, who will have increased property taxes.

The rep estimated with the 2.8 percent increase, taxes for someone with a $100,000 home will go up by 11 percent—18 percent with the 5.7 percent increase.

Smith says he thinks Council is opting for the 2.8 percent increase, but that would still leave the city's budget about $3M short. So instead of collecting more property taxes, City Council has suggested using money from the Legacy Fund to compensate.

Former City Council Member Tim Pape (D – 5th District) says the Legacy Fund money should strictly be used for city projects to attract business. Pape says city wages have been declining for the last 15 to 20 years compared to the rest of the country and attempting to keep taxes low hasn’t been making up for the loss.

“We are losing our wealth. We are losing the ability to earn income and the taxes that come from it that support our police, our fire our parks, our trails, our infrastructure. It’s a downward spiral and we need a dramatic change to reverse that,” said Pape.

Pape says that dramatic change, like investing in new projects, could happen with the use of the Legacy Fund money instead of using it for “simple operations.”

“These legacy funds present a unique opportunity to invest in our future in game-changing ways that will attract and retain the businesses and talent to run them,” he said.

Carl Jackson of Fort Wayne also spoke out at the hearing. He says if the Legacy Fund money relieves the tax burden, he doesn’t see a problem.

“I think if it takes a little bit of that money to keep the taxes from going up I think that’s what they should do,” said Jackson. “They mention legacy all the time and to me that means is belongs to the people of Fort Wayne. I think we ought to be able to use it to keep our taxes down if at all possible.”

Jackson says Fort Wayne citizens are already being hit up with tax hikes from the schools and water rates.

“It all keeps adding up,” he said. They should take the money that belongs to the people of Fort Wayne and use it for us.”

City Council is expected to give their final vote on the budget Oct. 23.

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