FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – Fort Wayne City Council voted down a plan that would have allowed the city to proceed with the annexation of part of northern Allen County.
At a meeting Tuesday might, the vote was seven to two against approving the fiscal plan for the North IV annexation. The party-line vote saw council’s seven republicans vote against the fiscal plan.
The proposal included 23 square miles of property and would’ve brought 22,000 people into the city limits. It meant more tax revenue for the city, but it could’ve cost Allen County $5.4 million a year.
Hundreds of people who would be affected by the annexation waited anxiously for the council’s decision. Ultimately, city council sided with those residents who had been so vocal in their opposition for the plan.
City Council President Russ Jehl (R-2nd) said they had no choice.
“We were placed in a very bad position where tonight we either had to pass it and hope to work something out later down the road,” Jehl said. “Or go ahead and reject it. That seemed like the prudent thing. There really was no other reasonable choice.”
City Councilman Geoff Paddock (D-5th) said annexation is vital to the health and growth of the city.
“A city that is growing and a city that has a strong financial base will attract businesses,” said Paddock. “So for those reasons I felt it was important to support the annexation.”
Since announcing the proposal the city has received backlash from concerned residents. Some school districts and city service jobs might have suffered as a result. Paddock hoped to move forward with the plan while working out some of those issues.
“I think Mayor Henry and his administration had done a pretty good job over the last few weeks trying to modify the original plan and get more support,” he said. “And to mitigate some of the financial impact to the school district and other entities. I think that was coming along pretty well and I hoped to fine tune it and bring it forward. Unfortunately that won’t happen.”
Some changes to the plan were introduced during Tuesday’s City Council meeting. City officials scaled back the area that would be annexed by 16 percent. There was also discussion of amending some city ordinances regarding the use of firearms on private property, a burning ordinance, and a noise ordinance. Jehl said it was too little too late.
“There was no talk about finding common ground until after it was introduced after it was essentially rejected by council,” he said. “And after Northeast Allen County Schools, Northwest Allen publicly opposed it.”
Northwest Allen County Schools Superintendent Chris Himsel has been very vocal about his opposition to the annexation plan. It would’ve cost the school district more than $4.4 million dollars resulting in the elimination of bus service in 2019.
“My job is to advocate for 7,200 children,” said Himsel. “I wanted to make sure people were educated on the issue of how property tax caps were going to affect our schools and that’s what we did. We took that job seriously we advocated for our children we made sure people were educated and as a result we are pleased with the decision.”
Mayor Tom Henry (D-Fort Wayne), who was not at Tuesday’s meeting, issued the following statement after the vote:
“At a time when the City of Fort Wayne is experiencing positive momentum and investments like never before, we took a step back tonight with City Council’s action to not pass the fiscal plan for the North IV annexation.
Tonight’s decision by seven members of City Council sends a clear message that they are content with the status quo and unwilling to show leadership.
It’s disappointing that seven members of City Council have turned their backs on those who elected them to represent City interests and position our community as a leader and destination place.
I want to thank Councilmen Hines and Paddock for voting in favor of the annexation fiscal plan in an effort to continue the dialogue. They’re to be commended for being advocates for residents and businesses.
My administration is committed to ensuring Fort Wayne is a jobs and quality of life leader.
Successful cities must grow to compete and be a place where residents want to live, work and play and businesses want to invest.
Even with tonight’s setback, my team and I will continue to fight for all City residents – every quadrant – every neighborhood.
Collectively, we must be committed to enhancing job and economic development opportunities to move Fort Wayne and the region forward in the right direction.”