Greater Fort Wayne board supports tax hike to fund riverfront, sidewalks

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) The Greater Fort Wayne Inc. Board of Directors has voted to support a proposed Fort Wayne City Council ordinance that calls for an increase to the local income tax to fund downtown Fort Wayne riverfront development and sidewalks and alleyway improvements.

In a statement Friday, Greater Fort Wayne said its board supports revitalizing Fort Wayne’s sidewalks, alleys and Riverfront area. The board’s vote was unanimous.

“Many of the sidewalks near our schools are damaged or incomplete. In some cases, the only option for our students is to walk in or near the road, which is clearly a child safety hazard,” said Dr. Wendy Robinson, Superintendent of Fort Wayne Community Schools and a GFW Inc. board member. “Especially with more students walking to school, we owe it to our kids to give them a safe path to the education they deserve.”

The South Dock Amphitheatre is shown in the background of this rendering of the regional Riverfront Development Project. (City of Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation)

In April, four city councilmen and Mayor Tom Henry called for a .15 percent increase to the local income tax to fund the city’s planned riverfront development. The plan would raise $9.6 million annually – revenue that would be earmarked for the city’s planned $79 million riverfront development plan and a $40 million project to create 40 miles of sidewalks that would connect city neighborhoods to schools, and repair existing sidewalks and alleyways.

The tax hike would mean the average household with an income of $49,000 would see an increase of $6 per month or $73 a year under the proposal.

Greater Fort Wayne said in the release Friday that after Fort Wayne Community Schools was forced to eliminate bus transportation for about 7,000 students, basic infrastructure has become an increasingly pressing issue, and increased walkability and safety for people of all ages is important.

Eric Doden, CEO of Greater Fort Wayne Inc.

The economic development driver added that the riverfront project would become a signature community landmark help boost jobs and wages in northeast Indiana.

“Developing our Riverfront into a vibrant destination will help push our community from good to great,” said Ray Kusisto, CEO of Ortho NorthEast and a GFW Inc. board member. “A thriving Riverfront will also be a crucial element in attracting and retaining the highly skilled people we need to fill job openings in our region. This initiative is a game changer that will pay dividends now and for decades to come, as our community continues to compete for jobs and better wages.”

In a wane.com poll, more than 75 percent of respondents said they do not support a tax increase to fund riverfront development and sidewalk creation. More than 1,400 people voted in the poll.

City Council will host a public meeting to discuss the proposed local income tax adjustment June 27 at 5:30 p.m. City Council will then discuss and vote on the proposal on July 11.