The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Young Leaders of Northeast Indiana.
One of my greatest frustrations with public projects is how long they take to happen.
I live near the GE Campus, and I attended a meeting about it where developers mentioned ideas for the space, like a public market where farmers and vendors could sell their goods.
I visited a similar space at the West Side Market in Cleveland last year, and I thought something like that would be amazing in downtown Fort Wayne. Hearing people talk about it at GE, I realized it could finally happen here. Awesome.
Then someone raised their hand asked that fateful question: When can we expect to see this project finished by?
The developers looked at each other for a moment before offering a tentative timeline of five years for the completion of Phase 1. “Considering everything goes according to plan, of course.”
Five years. In developer-time, that’s incredible. That’s breakneck speed. I get it.
But in Kara-time, five years is still a long way away, and that’s what frustrates me.
I know things take time. I know I have to be patient. I know there are processes and systems to work with. But at the end of the day, every year feels like a long time in your 20s, and every day that something isn’t happening here, the sparks of excitement grow a little dimmer.
I’m constantly wishing there was a way I could speed things up. I want to enjoy more of this city while I’m still young—while I’m still living here and still have time to enjoy it. But even though a grand scale renovation of something like GE might just have to wait, there are other local projects that we can make happen faster.
In mid-March, city councilmen Dr. John Crawford proposed an income tax increase that would expedite Riverfront Development and make our city more walkable with improved sidewalks and alleys. When taxes were capped in the past, Fort Wayne Community Schools lost part of its transportation budget, so some of the money is going to fix sidewalks for kids who can’t ride the bus anymore.
Now, I know what you’re probably thinking: Who wants higher taxes? And the answer is probably nobody. But if you want to see things happen with Riverfront Development in time for us to enjoy them (or if you simply want our local economy to succeed), then this tax increase is something that you should seriously consider contacting your city councilmen about, and here’s why.
Crawford’s plan calls for a .15 percent increase of our current income tax, taking it from 1.35% in Allen County to 1.5% (which is still below the Indiana average of 1.59%).
Overall, this change would cost taxpayers earning an average household income of $49,000 a year about $6 per month, or $73 per year. (Lower incomes would pay less, and higher incomes would pay more, yada yada.) If the increase goes into effect—charging everyone an equal rate of .15 percent—it will raise up to $79-million for Riverfront Development and up to $40-million for neighborhood sidewalk projects.
That said, the reason I’m urging you to consider this tax increase is more complicated.
It’s not just about beautifying the rivers or starting Riverfront Development. Actually, Phase 1 of Riverfront Development is already fully funded, and it’s happening no matter what. It’s set to start later this year with a promenade and treetop walk along both sides of the St. Marys River downtown.
But the kicker is, unless this tax gets passed, a nice river walk is all that’s it’s going to be for a long time, and it’s not likely to turn a big profit.
Crawford’s tax increase would go toward making spaces for offices, housing, retail and cafes along the river where our local economy could start earning its money back. And what’s exciting about that to me is that it means our city isn’t going doing things halfway. We’re going all-in. And when the Riverfront is fully complete, that’s when it’s going to start generating buzz, attracting the nation’s top employees, and making this region attractive to people who want more than “a nice place to raise a family.”
As a conservative councilman, Crawford is interested in boosting local business and private investments in our region, so he proposed this tax increase because Riverfront Development is estimated to reap about $1 billion in investments. That’s an insane return rate.
But the reason I’m writing to you about this tax in such direct terms is that it’s going to take a ton of public support to get it passed, and the critics have already made their case loud and clear.
Three city council members opposed Crawford's proposal, and even state representatives and a national advocacy organization called the AFP have butted in and spoken out against the tax, simply because it's a tax.
But as The Journal Gazette editorial board noted, "decisions about the future needs of our community need to be made by the people of Fort Wayne and the council and mayor they've elected."
As someone who lives here and has a stake in this region's future, I urge you to consider the long-term benefits of going all-in on Riverfront Development now.
If you want to see public projects like this happen while we’re young, if you believe this place is full of potential, you should email or call your local councilmen sometime before the (likely) July 11th vote and give this tax your support.
I know it’s a tax, and I know that sucks. But to me, it’s worth it because, honestly, it’s a race against the clock, and time is what’s at stake. When I consider staying here, I wonder whether I should keep hoping for things to happen, keep shouting into the wind, or if I should go somewhere else where people are already investing and things are already happening—while I’m still young and free and the world is full of opportunities.
The opportunities are so…alluring.
What are you waiting for?
Contact Your Councilmen
The Fort Wayne Common Council is nine elected members (one from each of the city's six council districts and three at-large representing everyone).
Michael A. Barranda
Written communications may also be directed to the City Council as a group or to individual Council members and mailed to the office of the City Clerk, Citizens Square, 200 E Berry St., Suite 110, Fort Wayne, Indiana, 46802.
Attending a Meeting
Public hearings on the income tax increase will be scheduled soon. Watch the city website for announcements.
You can also voice your opinions at City Council Meetings on the 2nd and 4th Tuesdays of each month at 5:30 p.m. in Room 35, Garden Level of Citizens Square Building. This is the time when citizens may address City Council as a group regarding any topic that is within the Council's authority.
HereSay, in partnership with YLNI, is a bi-weekly blog about our say on what’s happening here. It is written by YLNI member Kara Hackett, and the opinions are her own. Photo by Matt Thomas. HereSay@ylni.org