FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — In the buildup to Fort Wayne City Council looking at the city’s proposal to invest more than $22 million into Fort Wayne, many council members have already voiced their opinions on the proposal.

On Aug. 3, Councilman Geoff Paddock said he believes the proposal will spread the funding out “fairly across the city.”

However, council members Tom Didier and Russ Jehl have not expressed similar sentiments.

Last week, Didier said he was frustrated by the lack of input City Council typically gets with these types of proposals.

“There have been no conversations between the administration and City Council to work on identifying priorities for the projects [Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry] proposes funding with the additional tax rebates,” Didier said.

On Tuesday, Jehl issued a statement that agreed with Didier and called for “a more balanced and collaborative approach” in order to create a proposal that benefits all Fort Wayne communities.

Tuesday’s City Council meeting brought a partial conclusion to how the funding should be used as the group voted in favor of providing funding to some of the projects.

The City of Fort Wayne’s proposal divided the projects that would receive funding into three groups: neighborhood projects, riverfront projects, and infrastructure projects.

City Council voted to approve funding for neighborhood projects and one riverfront project, fixing the splash pad at Headwaters Park, but the other projects will have to wait until Sept. 12 before City Council decides their fates.

One of the neighborhood projects that will receive funding includes Pontiac Street Market.

Jehl and Didier both lamented how the proposal would disproportionately assist downtown Fort Wayne and the 6th District, with nearly 90 percent of the funding going toward those two areas, according to Jehl.

“Neighborhoods need to be priorities, not afterthoughts,” Jehl said. “Public investment cannot be exclusive to downtown Fort Wayne to the neglect of the rest of the community.”

Jehl said he would amend the proposal so that projects in each of Fort Wayne’s six districts would receive at least 10 percent of the supplemental funding.

Following Jehl’s statement, Mayor Henry issued a statement responding to Jehl:

“Unfortunately, Councilman Jehl has a very myopic view of this supplemental local income tax appropriation. In minimizing that a portion of the funds “[do] not go to any specific part of the city,” he ignores $2.1 million for public safety, $2 million for increasing energy efficiency through LED streetlights, and $800,000 for neighborhood street trees and improvement grants, which serve all across the City.

Councilman Jehl also confuses equality with equity. Certain areas of our City need additional investment due to their age and previous underinvestments. For example, our City parks in the 4th District are new compared to the rest of the City. Nearby, we just spent $537,000 in Buckner Park from normal budget appropriations. These particular additional funds allow us to make strides towards addressing certain longstanding needs, including realizing the vision set forth in the Southeast Area Strategy. When each section of our City has the opportunity to thrive, we are a much stronger City.

He further ignores the unprecedented investments this Administration has made in neighborhood infrastructure in recent years. Just since 2018, the City has invested $233 million in improving sidewalks, streets, roads, trails, bridges, parks, and for the first time in 100 years, alleys. This level of funding was made possible due to adjustments to the local income tax focused on public safety, public works, parks, riverfront, sidewalks, and alleys, which Councilman Jehl voted against. Tonight’s additional appropriation is but one piece in the funding puzzle we assemble each year.

I appreciate Councilman Jehl bringing up the plans for the 2019 supplemental distribution. In the part of the proposal that was passed, funding was split equally among the four quadrants for improvements and it quickly became apparent that not all quadrants were on par with each other to be ready to make plans for spending such large amounts. City staff has spent a great deal of time and effort in supporting that process to ensure success across the entire City.

In addition, Council rejected expanding a program that would have provided $1 million to homeowners through a zero-interest loan program to help residents replace damaged roofing or repair home heating and cooling systems. As the funds would have eventually been returned to the City through repayments, it could have gone a long way to continually helping the people of Fort Wayne, not just rebuild the concrete and asphalt around them.

Finally, in the midst of considering this additional appropriation, we are working with City Council on putting together the budget for 2024. Throughout the year, I meet with members of City Council and during this time of year, we continue to meet to gather their input. It’s important that we not just look at each district as a separate part, but also at the City as a whole.

Our downtown is the heart of Fort Wayne and our neighborhoods are our City’s backbone. To ensure that all parts are vibrant and thriving, we must continue to invest in the places we live, work, and play. This is how we keep Fort Wayne moving forward.”

Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry