County Council says no to earmarking money for Regional Cities projects

January 25th, 2016

News Coverage:

January 21, 2016 12:22 PM

County Council says no to earmarking money for Regional Cities projects

DAVE GONG | The Journal Gazette

The Allen County Council on Thursday unanimously decided against earmarking $3 million for future Regional Cities Initiative projects.

Council President Roy Buskirk, R-at large, proposed setting aside the $3 million, stating he believes upcoming capital projects can be funded in other ways than raising taxes. Buskirk and 17 other Republican elected officials from Allen County signed a letter earlier this week questioning whether Greater Fort Wayne Inc. is using public funds to lobby for a sales tax increase.

The money will stay in the county's general fund for now and may be used for regional cities projects in the future, Councilman Bob Armstrong, R-at large said after the meeting.

"I realize that we need these projects," Buskirk said. "I think they can be funded other than raising taxes. This would be an example of where we would have money available without raising taxes. That's the reason that we would just earmark it currently for regional cities projects."

Other council members weren't as supportive of the proposal, however. Councilman Bill Brown, R-at large, said while he's not opposed to setting aside money, he felt earmarking money for projects at this stage is premature. He stressed the need for the county to maintain flexibility throughout the process, especially if a sales tax increase is deemed necessary.

"Taxes are all part of the governance, so depending on which way this initiative goes, when you're looking at the big picture, moving forward with the goal that's stated by the region, we've got to maintain flexibility," Brown said. "Anybody that really looks at our situation in northeast Indiana realizes that talent attraction and retention is critical for the future. Tax increases? I don't think anybody wants to pay more taxes. However, it takes resources."

Though Buskirk proposed setting aside the money, he ultimately voted with the other council members to leave the money in the general fund.

Councilman Tom Harris, R-2nd, and Councilwoman Sharon Tucker, D-1st, both agreed that earmarking funds for regional cities projects was premature. Both council members said they do not support tax increases. Harris also said as projects come forward, the council should consider using existing County Economic Development Income Tax funds.

"I want to mention we're at $20 million (in CEDIT) and it's going up," Harris said. "They truly put money aside for all these projects, the (Allen County) Commissioners do all year, but they don't spend all the money and that's how this account keeps growing and growing. So I think when that day comes and that moment comes where a regional city might be interested in some funding, CEDIT is appropriate and they've been building that account over time."

Nick Jordan, the county's chief deputy auditor, said a little over $20 million in CEDIT funds was budgeted for use in 2015, but only about $4.3 million was spent.

Greater Fort Wayne was created with the merger of the Greater Fort Wayne Chamber of Commerce and the Fort Wayne-Allen County Economic Development Alliance in 2013.