Standing room only at public hearing on tax increase

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) Fort Wayne City Council discussed a proposed increase of the local income tax to fund downtown Fort Wayne riverfront development and sidewalks and alleyway improvements on Tuesday evening.

In April, four city councilmen – with support from 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 South Dock Amphitheatre is shown in the background of this rendering of the regional Riverfront Development Project. (City of Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation)

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.

City council chambers were packed wall to wall with more than a hundred people on both sides of the debate.

Dallas Cole, who was born and raised in Fort Wayne, said he is one of the “millennials” the city wants to attract and retain with downtown development projects. Cole said he supports the development, however, he does not support raising taxes to do it.

“They try to compartmentalize this tax increase by minimizing how much it is,” he said.

Cole pointed out a recent gas tax and city wheel tax ordinance that was recently passed by state and city leaders. He said the cost is starting to add up.

“I’ve got to buy diapers,” he said. “Diapers aren’t getting cheaper. Owning a home is not getting cheaper. Gas, thanks to our representatives, is not getting cheaper.”

He’s hoping city leaders find another way to come up with money for riverfront development and other projects. If not, Cole said he is considering moving his family out of the city.

Jordan Backer, a recent transplant from Dayton Ohio, said he sees opportunity in the city of Fort Wayne. He is willing to pay the price.

“I am in favor of this tax increase.” said Backer. “Where I come from, they didn’t [invest in the city] for a while. It wasn’t good.”

Backer said the tax increase is a small price to pay for the city’s future.

“They can tax us a lot more,” he said. “This is something very minimal that I think we as a community can do to improve our town. I will pay my fair share. And honestly, if I had to pay more, I will pay more.”

The Greater Fort Wayne Inc. Board of Directors voted earlier this month to support the proposed ordinance. In a poll, though, 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. Greater Fort Wayne Inc. held a rally in front of Allen County Courthouse encourage others to support the proposal.

Councilman Micheal Barranda held a press conference ahead of the public meeting to address some concerns he had about the proposal. Instead of a .15 percent tax increase, he would like to see lowered to .1 percent. Barranda said he would like to see some provisions put in place that would outline where the funding could be invested. He said currently there are none.

City Council is expected to decide its fate with a vote following a discussion on July 11.