What: Fort Wayne City Council
When: 5:30 p.m Tuesday
Where: Room 30, Citizens Square, 200 E. Berry St.
Proposed legal guidelines on how to spend Fort Wayne's $75 million trust fund could set up some political tug-of-war Tuesday between City Council Republicans and Mayor Tom Henry's administration.
Council is expected to consider a bill that would entrust the mayor with the power to make proposals for the “Legacy” fund – subject to council approval – and would prevent the money from going toward tax cuts, debt payments or day-to-day city operations.
Administration officials say the document is meant to preserve the original intent behind the trust fund – which was created in 1978 from the lease of the old City Light utility – but Councilman John Crawford, R-at large, expressed concern that it may not give council enough of a voice in the process.
Crawford noted that the proposed bill would entrust a nine-person board of trustees – the majority of which would be the mayor and members of his cabinet – with the management of the fund, giving council only the power to say “yes” or “no” to the mayor's ideas.
“Basically what I wanted to change, it looks like only the board of trustees or the mayor could initiate” spending of the funds, Crawford said, adding that he would put forth an amendment allowing council to make its own proposals.
“This way, we could initiate a proposal. It becomes a two-way street,” he said.
Crawford and other council Republicans have pushed back against Henry's philosophy on the Legacy fund. From the start, Henry has maintained that the money should fund bold new programs, while at least three council members have pushed for the fund to go toward tax relief and backlogged street work.
The proposed bill includes a set of “guiding principles” for the Legacy money – principles that match up with Henry's position. The guidelines call for the money to go toward an “innovative project, program or policy” and prohibit city officials from using it to pay off debt.
“The ordinance is trying to give direction on what the intent of the Community Trust is,” said city Controller Pat Roller, who would sit on the board of trustees. “We believe the guiding principles are absolutely part of that this Legacy fund is all about.”
About $47 million of the money is available up front, with Indiana Michigan Power scheduled to pay the city another $28 million through 2025 under a settlement negotiated in 2010 and approved last year by the state.
Crawford said he would propose an amendment to the bill that would loosen the guiding principles, allowing some of the money to go toward property tax relief. He argued that the principles outlined in the bill would be too restrictive.
“I always like to have things as flexible as possible,” Crawford said. “I don't want to handcuff ourselves.”
The proposed bill requires approval of a 6-3 “super majority” of council to spend money from the original 1978 trust fund – about $30 million – and a simple majority vote to approve expenditures from the Legacy fund created by I&M's purchase of the City Light utility's remaining assets.
Councilman Geoff Paddock, D-5th, said he thought the bill provided a good framework for deciding how best to use the money.
“I don't think you should use it on day-to-day operations, and it should be very difficult to use it outside of the framework of what the mayor has put forward,” Paddock said. “To me, this is really a sacred fund, so we want to be good stewards of it.”
Crawford, who asked for the bill to be held last week, said he would not count on a quick resolution to the issue, with debate on the matter likely to dominate Tuesday's meeting and perhaps even bleed over into another meeting.
Mayor Henry is scheduled to present his recommendations on the money to council in an informal "fifth Tuesday" meeting Oct. 30.